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Syria regime and opposition both condemn Israeli strikes

An Israeli Merkava tank is positioned for deployment during a drill in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights near the border with Syria on May 5, 2013. Israel carried out a pre-dawn air strike near Damascus, targeting Iranian missiles destined for Lebanon's Hezbollah in the second such raid on Syria in three days, a senior Israeli source said.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images

Updated 8:52 p.m. ET

BEIRUT The Syrian regime and opposition forces found one thing to agree on, albeit for different reasons: They both condemned Israel for carrying out two airstrikes in the Middle Eastern country over the past 48 hours, a major escalation of Israeli involvement in the Syrian civil war.

Israel rushed to beef up its rocket defenses on its northern border Sunday to shield against possible retaliation from both Syria and its patron Iran. Although Syria and Iran hinted at possible retribution, the rhetoric in official statements appeared relatively muted.

Syrian opposition forces also spoke out against the airstrike in a press statement, saying it hurt their efforts to take down the regime of Bashar Assad.

"The Syrian Coalition is suspicious of the timing of this attack," the statement said. "These strikes have given the regime the necessary time to draw attention away from its crimes and massacres on the Syrian coast. It is not unlikely that as a result of these attacks, and world distraction, more crimes will be committed."

Meanwhile, leaders in the Arab League find themselves facing a conundrum. Nearly all Arab states have sided with rebel forces seeking to topple Assad and inflict a blow to his main ally, Iran, and the airstrikes are the type of punishing response many Arab leaders have urged from the West against Assad.

The fact the fighter jets came from Israel, however, exposes the complications and regional crosscurrents that make Syria the Arab Spring's most intricate puzzle. No Arab leader wants to be perceived as giving a green light for Israeli attacks.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby warned of serious repercussions from the Israeli attacks and called on the U.N. Security Council to "immediately move to stop the Israeli aggressions on Syria."

Elaraby described the Israeli airstrikes as a "grave violation of the sovereignty of an Arab state that will further complicate the issue in Syria and expose the region's security and stability to the most serious threats and consequences."

israel, damascus, syria, airstrikes
In this image taken from video obtained from the Ugarit News, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, smoke and fire fill the the skyline over Damascus, Syria, early Sunday, May 5, 2013 after an Israeli airstrike.
AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said he hasn't received all the details of the incident, but expressed concern over the airstrikes and encouraged both sides to "exercise maximum calm and restraint."

Despite new concerns about a regional war, Israeli officials signaled they will keep trying to block what they see as an effort by Iran to send sophisticated weapons to Lebanon's Hezbollah militia ahead of a possible collapse of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to intervene in the Syrian civil war to stop the transfer of what it calls "game-changing" weapons to Hezbollah, a Syrian-backed group that battled Israel to a stalemate during a month-long war in 2006.

As CBS News foreign correspondent Charlie D'Agata reports, Syrian State media claims that Israeli missiles destroyed a major military and scientific research center. But intelligence sources tell the Associated Press that the target was actually a shipment of Iranian long-range missiles for the militant group.

Since carrying out a lone airstrike in January that also reportedly destroyed a shipment of anti-aircraft missiles on its way Hezbollah, Israel had largely stayed on the sidelines. That changed over the weekend with a pair of airstrikes, including an attack near a sprawling military complex close to the Syrian capital of Damascus early Sunday that set off a series of powerful explosions.

The Israeli government and military refused to comment. But a senior Israeli official said both airstrikes targeted shipments of Fateh-110 missiles bound for Hezbollah. The Iranian-made guided missiles can fly deep into Israel and deliver powerful half-ton bombs with pinpoint accuracy. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a covert military operation.

Syria's government called the attacks a "flagrant violation of international law" that has made the Middle East "more dangerous." It also claimed the Israeli strikes proved the Jewish state's links to rebel groups trying to overthrow Assad's regime.

Syria's information minister, Omran al-Zoubi, reading a Cabinet statement after an emergency government meeting, said Syria has the right and duty "to defend its people by all available means."

Israeli defense officials believe Assad has little desire to open a new front with Israel when he is preoccupied with the survival of his regime. More than 70,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011, and Israeli officials believe it is only a matter of time before Assad is toppled.

Still, Israel seemed to be taking the Syrian threats seriously. Israel's military deployed two batteries of its Iron Dome rocket defense system to the north of the country Sunday. It described the move as part of "ongoing situational assessments."

Israel says the Iron Dome shot down hundreds of incoming short-range rockets during eight days of fighting against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip last November. Hezbollah fired some 4,000 rockets into Israel during the 2006 war, and Israel believes the group now possesses tens of thousands of rockets and missiles.

The Iron Dome deployment followed a surprise Israeli drill last week in which several thousand reservists simulated conflict in the north. In another possible sign of concern, Israel closed the airspace over northern Israel to civilian flights on Sunday and tightened security at embassies overseas, Israeli media reported. Israeli officials would not confirm either measure.