The latest threat came from Israel's deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim, who warned that Israel ought to consider carrying out military action against targets inside Syria.

"The rule is that anybody who deals with terror against Israel is a target," Boim said during an interview with the Israeli state-run radio on Thursday.

He further suggested that any military strike against Syria would be a "mere message to the Syrians" and wouldn't "cause a conflagration".

"I believe that it is possible to carry out these attacks by correct selection of targets, in the correct dosage, placing the red lines that must be placed, without thinking in terms of  massive conflagration, which certainly is not in our interests," he said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara said on Thursday that the "launching of premature Israeli threats against Syria lacks the least degrees of credibility or evidence".

Boim's remarks followed a plethora of statements by Israeli political and military officials, warning that Israel should or would attack Syria in reprisal for Tuesday's attack in Beir al-Saba.

Israel claims to be in the possession of "intelligence information" linking Syria to the Hamas cell that carried out the attack.

However, Palestinian resistance sources said Tuesday's attack, which killed and injured scores of Israelis, was in retaliation to Israel's killing of two prominent Palestinian resistance leaders earlier this year.

Syrian denials

However, observers in Israel and the Occupied Territories are reluctant to give Israel the benefit of the doubt in this regard because Israel has not apprehended the members of the cell.

Israel's main piece of "evidence" so far is the fact that Syria hosts an information office for Hamas and that some Hamas representatives visit Syria from time to time.

Syria, which is in a state of war with Israel and whose Golan Heights are still occupied by the Israeli army, doesn't hide its support for the Palestinian struggle for freedom from Israeli occupation.

The bus bombings were the first
Hamas strike in Israel for months

However, the Syrians repeatedly denied Israeli and US allegations that Palestinian resistance operations against Israel were being masterminded and planned on Syrian territory.

Israel seems intent on using the issue of Syria's alleged culpability in Tuesday's bus bombing as a pretext to mobilise US and European pressure on Damascus.

Effecting this campaign, Israeli officials have been in contact with the Netherlands, which  assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union, in an effort to get the EU to condemn Syria.

Moreover, Israel and its powerful supporters in Washington, are reportedly planning to present "intelligence information" indicting Syria, which Israel hopes would push the Bush administration to further escalate pressure on Damascus.

The US is already working through the UN Security Council for a resolution denouncing Syria for interfering in Lebanese internal affairs and demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country.

Israeli strikes

Syria and Hamas have denied Israeli accusations that the Damascus-based Hamas office masterminded the bus-bombing attack in Beir al Saba.

On Wednesday, Hamas officials in the West Bank labeled the accusations a "cheap distraction".

Syria has also rejected the accusations, vowing to respond to any kind to any "Israeli adventure".

Israel carried out an air strike on an erstwhile training camp belonging to an expatriate Palestinian resistance group outside Damascus last year.

Faruq al-Sharaa says Israeli
threats lack credibility

Syria, whose military inferiority vis-à-vis Israel has further worsened following the US occupation of Iraq, did not retaliate then, saying Syria would not be dragged into a military confrontation with Israel and would choose the right time and place for a response.

However, the Syrians have hinted that any Israeli attack on Syria this time will be addressed.

The most likely scenario of a Syrian response to a possible Israeli attack would be to let Hizb Allah or Hamas retaliate on Syria's behalf.

Hamas has already warned that the movement would target Israeli targets abroad if Israel targeted Hamas' foreign-based leaders, including the Damascus-based representatives.

Hamas said the bus-bombing attack in Beir al Saba was a long-delayed retaliation for the assassination by Israel earlier this year of Hamas's two top leaders, Shaikh Ahmad Yasin and his successor Abd al-Aziz al Rantisi.

Hamas officials have also cited the killing by Israel of hundreds of Palestinians, most of them innocent civilians, during the five months preceding the latest bombing in Southern Israel, when neither Hamas nor any other Palestinian resistance group carried out any human-bombing attack against Israel.

Israel military sources say they have captured dozens of would-be bombers in the past few months, but has not provided evidence to support such claims.