Israel blasts Syrian training camp hours after Haifa suicide attack

First attack on Syria in 20 years

Sunday, October 5, 2003

TEL AVIV Israeli warplanes have bombed a Syrian training camp in the first such attack in more than 20 years.

Israeli military sources said F-16 fighter-jets struck the Ain Saheb base 15 kilometers northwest of Damascus on early Sunday, hours after 19 Israelis were killed in an Islamic Jihad suicide strike in the northern city of Haifa. The sources said the F-16s dropped several bombs and fired missiles toward buildings in the training base.

The base was said to have been used by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine for training of their members, Middle East Newsline reported.

The sources said many of the Palestinian insurgents, financed by Iran, were then sent to the West Bank where they provided training to other Palestinians.

The sources said this was the first time in more than 20 years that Israel's military struck deep into Syria. The sources said Syrian gunners did not fire toward the Israeli warplanes.

On Saturday, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew herself up in a restaurant in the northern city of Haifa on Saturday, killing 19 people and injuring 55. The bomb was said to have been filled with shrapnel, which ripped through the patrons of the restaurant, many of whom were children.

Palestinian sources said the bomber was a 29-year-old woman whose family was linked to the Islamic Jihad. The sources said the woman, Hanadi Jaradat, was an attorney in the West Bank city of Jenin whose brother and father were killed in Israeli military operations in July.

"Syria is a state that supports terror, that constantly tries to frustrate efforts to bring calm and stability to the region and gives cover in its territory and capital to the terror organizations that act against Israeli citizens," said a statement by the Israeli army.

"Israel will not accept the rules of the game that the terrorists are trying to dictate, and will act with determination against all who harm its citizens, in accordance with the right to self defense and defense of the state," it said. On April 16, 2001, Israeli warplanes blasted a Syrian radar station in Lebanon, where Syria is the main power broker, killing three Syrian soldiers. That strike was the first in five years against the Syrian military and came in retaliation for an attack by Syrian-backed guerrillas in which an Israeli soldier was killed.

Syria closed the offices of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad after the U.S. invasion of Iraq after being warned by the United States to stop its support of terrorist organizations.

Israeli officials said the security guard at the restaurant failed to detect the suicide bomber. They said Palestinian bombers have not been deterred by the security presence around Israeli facilities.

The Israeli victims included a former senior commander of the Israeli navy and several other prominent Israelis. One of those injured was the coach of a leading Israeli soccer team.

"This operation proves the failure of all security measures undertaken by the occupation forces, including the siege and building walls to prevent Palestinian factions from carrying out attacks against Israel," Hamas leader Abdullah Shami said.

Authorities have been on high alert for the prospect that another Palestinian suicide bomber has entered Israel and plans to attack a civilian target. Officials said the bombers were believed to have been sent by the Islamic Jihad from the northern West Bank and harbored by Israeli Arabs.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met his military and security chiefs to discuss an Israeli response to the Palestinian attack. Officials said Sharon and his aides have been in consultations with the United States over the prospect of expelling Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat.

"We have to destroy the terrorist infrastructure," Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said. "We will first do it in Gaza [Strip], but also in Nablus and Jenin. We have to make tough decisions."

Arafat has expressed condemnation of the attack and telephoned an Israeli Arab mayor whose constituents were among the victims of the Haifa suicide strike. Officials said Israeli military chiefs have expressed opposition to the expulsion of Arafat, who has now been surrounded by several human shields from Israel and the West.

Overnight Sunday, Israeli combat helicopters attacked three Islamic insurgency targets in the Gaza Strip. Two arsenals of the Jihad were attacked one in Gaza City and the other in the Bureij refugee camp.

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