JERUSALEM - Israeli forces have carried out an air strike against a shipment of sophisticated missiles bound for the Lebanese political and military organization Hezbollah, officials in Washington, Lebanon, and Israel told reporters Saturday.
The strike took place about 4 a.m. Friday at an air defense facility on the periphery of Damascus International Airport, according to a Lebanese security official who was in the Syrian capital at the time. The airport is known to be the destination for weapons flown in from Iran both for the Syrian government and for its ally Hezbollah.
There had previously been reports of a huge blaze at Damascus airport, with a video showing two locations on fire after what was described as rebel shelling. But the Lebanese official said the blasts were bigger than those caused by mortar or shellfire.
Rather, he said, the attack appeared to be identical to one in January in which Israeli jets hit a convoy carrying weapons intended for Hezbollah, with the warplanes striking their target from a location over the town of Deir al-Ashayer, in Lebanon's Bekaa valley.
His claims could not be independently confirmed, but a Syrian opposition website also claimed that Damascus airport was the target, according to the newspaper Haaretz. Lebanese authorities and residents had already reported unusually intense Israeli overflights during the previous 48 hours, suggesting the warplanes may have struck their target from Lebanese airspace.
On Friday, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman called on the United Nations to press Israel to halt violations of his country's airspace.
Israeli officials described the missiles targeted in the Friday strike as "game-changing" weapons, according to the Associated Press. They said they were not chemical weapons, but advanced, long-range, ground-to-ground missiles.
The attack, Israeli officials said, took place a day after it was approved in a Thursday meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his security cabinet.
One U.S. official, who also declined to be identified, told Reuters on Friday the target was a building, rather than a convoy.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the development. Spokesmen for Netanyahu and the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on the reports.
The strike coincides with escalating concerns that the Syrian war is drawing in its neighbors, with Hezbollah fighters now playing an important role in some of the battles raging inside the country.