Israel Attacks Camp In Syria

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, against the backdrop of the Israeli (left) and Syrian flags. 10-5-03 Graphic to illustrate story about Israel attacking a Palestinian camp in Syria it said was home to an Islamic Jihad cell. 10-5-03
AP / CBS
Israeli says its warplanes attacked an Islamic Jihad training base deep in Syria in retaliation for a suicide bombing at a Haifa restaurant that killed 19 people.

CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger reports the raid is the first by Israel on Syrian soil in more than two decades and as such, could widen the Mideast conflict by putting the two regional powers on a collision course. The Israeli army, in a statement announcing the attack, said that Syria is a state that sponsors terror.

The strike, which occurred late Saturday or early Sunday, targeted the Ein Sahev camp about 10 miles northwest of Damascus. The Israeli army charges that the camp used by several terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

"Syria has been warned more than once by the United States that it should close all the facilities of the Islamic Jihad," Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said. "Apparently it has not done so. And it is our policy after what happened yesterday to go after Islamic Jihad wherever they are."

The Syrian government had no immediate public response.

Speaking on the al-Jazeera television network, Abu Emad El-Refaei, an Islamic Jihad spokesman in Beirut, Lebanon, denied that there were any Islamic Jihad bases in Syria.

"We do not have any training camps or bases in Syria or any other country," he said. "All our bases are inside the Palestinian occupied territories."

A senior commander for the radical Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command told The Associated Press in Damascus that the camp was one of their deserted bases, not on an Islamic Jihad camp. A civilian guard was injured, the commander said.

The attack came several hours after a Palestinian woman wrapped in explosives entered a beachside restaurant in Haifa during the busy lunchtime hour and blew herself up, killing 19 people, including four children.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for that attack.

"The army has started operating against those behind the attack, those who support (terror) and those who use the strategy of terror in order to harm citizens of Israel," the army statement said.

Islamic Jihad, a militant Palestinian group responsible for many attacks against Israel, enjoys support from other countries, including Iran and Syria, the statement said.

"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," the army said.

The statement also accused Iran of funding and directing Islamic Jihad.

"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 out of fear it could be the next nation targeted by the United States.

The United States had been pushing Syria to act further and expel Hamas and Islamic Jihad leader, but Syria has refused.

Western diplomats say Syria is loathe to be seen as betraying the Palestinian cause, and it also does not want to give up one of the few bargaining chips it still has in negotiations with Israel.

Despite Syrian denials, the diplomats say Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in Syria give directions to the groups' members in the West Bank and Gaza.