Middle East

Syria defence minister: Army will beat rebels

Fahed al-Freij hints that Syrian army will not retaliate over an Israeli airstrike near Damascus last week.
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2013 23:00
Freij hinted that the Syrian government will not respond to an Israeli airstrike near Damascus last week [Reuters]

Syria's defence minister said on Monday that the army would succeed against rebels trying to overthrow president Bashar al-Assad, and hinted that Syria would not respond to an Israeli airstrike near Damascus last week.

"This heroic Syrian Arab army proved to the world that it is a strong army, a trained army, an army that cannot be broken," Fahed al-Freij told state television.

He portrayed the air raid as a response to the failure of the rebels, who he described as "tools" of Israel.

Diplomats and security sources have said the strike targeted a convoy of weapons destined for Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon. But Syria has said Israeli planes struck a military research centre at Jamraya, northwest of Damascus.

"Why does Syria not respond? It's the Israeli enemy which responded ... When the Israeli enemy saw that its tools were being pursued, and they did not achieve their results, it intervened," Freij said.

"It is a response to our military work against the armed gangs," he added, referring to the rebels.

'Gaps in radar coverage'

Syria protested last week to the United Nations over the Israeli raid, saying it considered the strike a violation of a military disengagement accord following their last major war in 1973.

Syria's ambassador to Lebanon also warned that Syria could decide on a "surprise" response to the attack.

Freij admitted that rebels have targeted Syrian air defences over the past few months, and said that the army leadership has positioned them all in one safe place, leading to "gaps in radar coverage."

"These gaps became known to the armed gangs and the Israelis who undoubtedly coordinated together to target the research centre," he said.

He suggested that the army was overstretched and having difficulty retaining control over several positions across the country, adding they had to abandon some areas in order to minimise casualties.

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak implied that his country was behind the raid but officials have otherwise maintained silence, just as they did when Israel bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear site in 2007.

That attack did not prompt military retaliation.


Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
'Justice for All' demonstrations swell across the US over the deaths of African Americans in police encounters.
Six former Guantanamo detainees are now free in Uruguay with some hailing the decision to grant them asylum.
Disproportionately high number of Aboriginal people in prison highlights inequality and marginalisation, critics say.
Nearly half of Canadians have suffered inappropriate advances on the job - and the political arena is no exception.
Women's rights activists are demanding change after Hanna Lalango, 16, was gang-raped on a bus and left for dead.
Buried in Sweden's northern forest, Sorsele has welcomed many unaccompanied kids who help stabilise a town exodus.
A look at the changing face of North Korea, three years after the death of 'Dear Leader'.
While some fear a Muslim backlash after café killings, solidarity instead appears to be the order of the day.
Victims spared by the deadly disease are reporting blindness and other unexpected post-Ebola health issues.