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Israel Admits To Sept. Air Attack In Syria

Israel on Tuesday eased a strict news blackout on an air strike in Syria last month, allowing the first publication of reports it struck an unspecified "military target" deep inside Syrian territory.

However, the censor continued to bar publication of other key details, including the target of the raid, which forces participated in the mission and whether the operation was successful.

Foreign reports say Israel attacked a nuclear facility supplied by North Korea or a weapons shipment destined for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger. Syria denies that, saying Israel hit a vacant military building.

Israel's military censor had imposed a total blackout on coverage of the Sept. 6 air strike. But Tuesday, the office allowed preliminary details to be published after Syria's president, Bashar Assad, confirmed the air strike in a televised interview.

Journalists in Israel are required to submit articles related to security and military issues to the censor, which can make changes to stories or bar publication altogether. In a rare move, the censor's office issued a special directive about the Syrian air raid, specifically prohibiting publication of any details.

Violation of the censorship orders can result in the loss of press credentials or other sanctions.

In other developments:

  • Four Hamas police officers were killed and two wounded Tuesday when a car exploded outside a Hamas security headquarters building in Gaza City, hospital and security officials said. At first Hamas blamed Israel but later said it was unclear what caused the blast. The car exploded on the Gaza beachfront near the Hamas marine police force building.
  • Palestinian families celebrated Tuesday as Israel released another 29 security prisoners, bringing the two-day total to 86, reports Berger. It's a goodwill gesture to U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel wants to strengthen Abbas ahead of an international peace conference in the U.S. planned for November.
  • In another sign of warming ties, Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet Wednesay.
  • Israeli troops killed two Hamas militants on Monday in a nighttime gun battle in the Gaza Strip, a Hamas official said. The Israeli military said troops shot two armed Palestinian militants who attacked troops inside Gaza not far from the border fence. One soldier was lightly wounded by gunfire, the military said.

    The September attack has raised tensions, says Berger, but both sides say they do not want a war.

    "Israeli air force planes attacked a military target deep inside Syria on Sept. 6, the military censor allowed for publication today," Israel's Army Radio reported. The headline on the Web site of the Maariv newspaper was, "Now it can be revealed: Israel attacked in Syria," while the Haaretz newspaper led with the military's permission to publish "the fact" of Israel's attack.

    In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. Monday, Assad said Israeli warplanes attacked an "unused military building," the first time Syria officially acknowledged an air raid had taken place.

    Previously, Syrian officials had said only that the Israeli warplanes entered the country's airspace, came under fire from anti-aircraft defenses, and dropped munitions and fuel tanks over northeastern Syria to lighten their loads while they fled.

    Assad said the raid last month showed Israel's "visceral antipathy towards peace."

    The release of the Gaza prisoners was held up for a day after Israel's military chief expressed reservations over the move. In the first stage of the release, Israel freed 57 prisoners to the West Bank on Monday.

    The Gaza prisoners walked through the terminal at the Erez border crossing and were greeted by a large crowd of relatives (seen at left).

    When ecstatic family members rushed toward the terminal, Israeli soldiers briefly opened fire, wounding two people, witnesses said.

    The army confirmed a large group approached the border, and it fired in the air, and then at people's legs, to disperse the crowd. The army said one person was wounded (left).

    The prisoners were overwhelmingly members of Fatah, the moderate movement of President Mahmoud Abbas, which was routed by the Hamas militant group in June. The crowd sang Fatah songs and held yellow Fatah flags.

    Security officials said military chief Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi sent President Shimon Peres, who must authorize sentence commutations, a letter saying it was "immoral" to release Gazans held by Israel while Hamas-linked militants in Gaza continue to hold Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Peres' office would not comment on the affair.

    Militants linked to Hamas captured Shalit in June 2006 after they tunneled under a fence separating Gaza from Israel and attacked an Israeli army base. Two other soldiers were killed.

    The release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails is for Palestinians key for reconciliation between the people since Israel holds about 11,000 prisoners, and many families have relatives held.

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