DAMASCUS, (Reuters) – Syria accused Israel of bombing its territory on Thursday and warned it could respond, but Israel Radio carried a denial there had been an air strike.
The official Syrian news agency said there were no casualties or damage and that Syrian air defences fired on the incoming planes shortly after midnight (2100 GMT).
Israel Radio, quoting an unidentified military source, said there had been no air strike on Syria. But a military spokesman told Reuters: “We’re still checking.” The Syrian news agency SANA said the aircraft “infiltrated Syrian airspace through the northern border coming from the direction of the Mediterranean and headed towards northeastern territory, breaking the sound barrier”.
It added: “The Syrian Arab Republic warns the government of the Israeli enemy and reserves the right to respond according to what it sees fit.”
Local residents said they heard the sound of five planes or more above Tal al-Abiad area on Syria’s border with Turkey, around 160 km (100 miles) north of the Syrian city of Rakka. An Israeli military source earlier said the air force had been carrying out a major exercise this week. Israeli aircraft routinely train over Turkey, a Muslim country friendly with Israel.
Tensions between the two neighbours have been high in recent months, with some Israeli intelligence officials suggesting President Bashar al-Assad’s administration might be ready to try to take by force parts of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the war of 1967.
Syrian officials have said Syria had no intention to use force to regain the plateau and that it was seeking peaceful means to liberate the territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who launched his forces against Syrian-allied Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon a year ago, has been at pains to stress that he has no hostile intentions toward Damascus.
Olmert has said he would like to reopen peace negotiations that have been stalled for seven years. Syrian officials, too, have said they would like peace. But there has been little sign of any concrete steps towards rapprochement.
Syria last said it fired at Israeli warplanes in June 2006, when Israeli aircraft buzzed a Syrian presidential palace.
Israeli officials said at the time the flyover was a message to cease support for Hamas after the Palestinian militant group abducted an Israeli soldier.
Israel has long warned Syria to stop supporing militant Palestinian groups and the Lebanese movement Hezbollah.
Israeli jets bombed an empty Palestinian militant training camp in Syria in October 2003.