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Syria Accuses Israel of Aiding Al-Qaeda - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In this June 3, 2012 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech at the parliament in Damascus, Syria. (AP)

In this June 3, 2012 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad delivers a speech at the parliament in Damascus, Syria. (AP)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Israeli air strikes that devastated Syrian targets over the weekend have resulted in the deaths of 15 soldiers, with dozens more unaccounted for, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

According to a representative of the group, Rami Abdel Rahman, “At least 15 soldiers were killed, and dozens more are missing.”

“These three sites [targeted] would usually have around 150 soldiers in them, but it’s not clear if they were all there at the time of the strikes.”

The consecutive raids have led to the Syrian government accusing Israel of effectively helping Al-Qaeda, and said the strikes “open the door to all possibilities.”

Israeli officials echoed what they said when they struck Syria in January, that they are not expecting Assad to pick a fight with a well-armed neighbor while facing defeat at home.

Denying it was weighing in on the rebel side on behalf of Washington—which opposes Assad but is hesitating to intervene—officials said Israel was pursuing its own conflict, not with Syria but with Iran. They said Israel was acting to prevent Iran’s Hezbollah allies receiving missiles that might strike Tel Aviv if Israel made good on threats to attack Tehran’s nuclear program.

Commenting on the Israeli strikes on Syria, Iranian defense minister Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi told the Iranian Students’ news agency (ISNA) that “this action demonstrates the Zionist regime’s aggressive spirit, and the Syrian government can give a crushing response to this regime.”

Vahidi said Israel should be stopped from taking such actions, otherwise “tough events might happen in the region—and the winner would not be America or the Zionist regime.”

In a related development, Syrian rebels shot down a military helicopter in the eastern part of the country, killing eight government troops on board.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights posted a video online showing several armed men standing in front of the wreckage. One of the fighters in the footage says it is a helicopter that the rebels shot down late Sunday in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, along Syria’s border with Iraq.

As the man speaks, the camera shifts to a pickup truck piled with bodies. The fighter is then heard saying that all of Assad’s troops who were on board the helicopter were killed. He says Islamic fighters of the Abu Bakr Saddiq brigade brought down the helicopter as it was taking off from a nearby air base in the provincial capital of Deir Ezzor.

The Syrian conflict started with largely peaceful protests against Assad’s regime in March 2011, but eventually turned into a civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people according to the United Nations.

More than one million Syrians have fled their homes during the fighting and sought shelter in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Millions of others have been displaced inside Syria.