President Assad says Syria able to face Israel

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Syrian President Bashar Assad is denouncing Israel and says his nation is capable of facing the Jewish state after its warplanes hit targets near Damascus over the weekend, the Associated Press reported.

Assad’s comments were his first since the airstrikes. He spoke Tuesday after a meeting with Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian foreign minister, who was visiting Damascus.

Assad stopped short of promising retaliation, but said the Syrians “are capable of facing Israel’s ventures.”

He also accused Israel of supporting “terrorists” in Syria. The Syrian government refers to rebels fighting to topple Assad’s regime as terrorists.

“The time has come to dissuade the Israeli occupier from carrying out such aggression against the peoples of the region,” he said, quoted by Syrian television.

“Iran stands at the side of Syria in the face of Israeli aggression, whose aim is to damage the security of the region and weaken the axis of resistance,” said Salehi, whose country is a close ally of Damascus.

The visit followed Israeli raids on Friday and Sunday against military targets near Damascus, including sites which Israeli sources said held arms from Iran bound for its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon, a claim denied by Tehran, AFP reported.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said his country was not getting involved in Syria’s war but defending its security when “red lines” were crossed.

“We are not getting involved in the civil war in Syria but we have made clear what our interests are,” he said.

“We have laid down red lines among which are the transfer of sophisticated weapons to terror organizations like Hezbollah and others, or [the transfer of] chemical weapons, or violations of our sovereignty,” he said.

After U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the two countries agreed to push both the Syrian regime and rebels to find a political solution.

“We agreed that Russia and the United States will encourage both the Syria government and opposition groups to find a political solution,” he said, and they also sought to hold an international conference on Syria.

U.S. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, said he had both a moral and a national security obligation to stop the slaughter in Syria, but warned he could not just act on a “hope and a prayer.”

“I think that understandably, there’s a desire for easy answers,” Obama said, referring to domestic critics who are demanding a more active U.S. role, including an operation to arm rebel groups and impose a no-fly zone.

“My job is to constantly measure our very real and legitimate humanitarian and national security interests in Syria, but measuring those against my bottom line, which is, what’s in the best interests of America’s security.”

On the humanitarian front, the United Nations said on Tuesday that the number of Syrians displaced within their homeland by the conflict has reached 4.25 million.

“Movement by internally displaced persons continues to be large-scale and fluid, as many Syrians are displaced multiple times,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“Over the past months, the number has more than doubled, from an estimated two million to 4.25 million people,” he told reporters.

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