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BEIRUT/WASHINGTON — The war in Syria threatened to enter a new and dangerously unpredictable phase on Sunday as the US and Israel issued stark warnings over Iran’s role.
Israeli forces will press ahead with Syria operations despite the loss of an F-16 warplane shot down on Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. Israel carried out major air raids in Syria on Saturday against what it described as Iranian targets.
“We inflicted a heavy blow to Iranian and Syrian forces,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday.
“We made clear to everyone that our rules of engagement will not change in any way. We will continue to harm anyone who tries to harm us. This was our policy and this will remain our policy.”
Iran also came under fire from the US State Department. “Iran’s calculated escalation of threat and its ambition to project its power and dominance place all the people of the region — from Yemen to Lebanon — at risk,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
“The US continues to push back on the totality of Iran’s malign activities in the region and calls for an end to Iranian behavior that threatens peace and stability.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said all concerned in Syria and in the region must abide by international law, and called for an immediate de-escalation in Syria. The UN Security Council will discuss the crisis on Wednesday.
Guterres is “following closely the alarming military escalation throughout Syria and the dangerous spillover across its borders,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Ambassador Marcelle M. Wahba, president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told Arab News: “These incidents … are of great concern as they could easily escalate. With the US military presence in Syria, as well as Russians, Iranians, Hezbollah, Syrian regime forces, Syrian Kurdish forces and a number of other opposition groups, it is a recipe for disaster if things get out of hand. I’m sure the US government is encouraging restraint on all sides.”
Ellen Laipson of the Stimson Center in Washington told Arab News Saturday’s events were “a dangerous turning point in the conflict. Israel and Syria have long experience in avoiding confrontation, but this incident risks changing the behavior of both states.
“It will not necessarily lead to sustained Israeli involvement in Syria’s civil war, but it illustrates that after the territorial defeat of Daesh, and the view that Syria has prevailed in its internal war against domestic opposition, the Syrian crisis has turned into a multiheaded monster.”
On the ground in Syria, six civilians, two of them children, died in renewed Assad regime airstrikes on Saturday night on the opposition held enclave of Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus. ___
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