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Syria Chemical Weapons: Israel Would Strike To Secure Syrian Arsenal

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Gali Tbbon, Pool) | AP

JERUSALEM — Israel would "have to act" if the Syrian regime collapses and there's a risk Syria's chemical weapons and missiles could fall into the hands of militant groups, Israel's prime minister warned Sunday.

The deteriorating situation of President Bashar Assad's regime is stoking Israeli fears that militants affiliated with Lebanon's Hezbollah group or the al-Qaida terror network could raid Syrian military arsenals for chemicals weapons or missiles that could strike Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel hasn't considered specifically trying to cross the border to seize the weapons. "There are other possibilities," he said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

Over the weekend, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would be prepared to attack Syrian weapons arsenals should the need arise.

Netanyahu said preventing Syria's weapons from falling into the wrong hands is key to Israeli security.

"Could you imagine Hezbollah, the people who are conducting with Iran all these terror attacks around the world – could you imagine them having chemical weapons? It would be like al-Qaida having chemical weapons," he said. "It's something that is not acceptable to us, not acceptable to the United States and to any peaceable country in the world."

"So I think that this is something we'll have to act to stop if the need arises. And the need might arise if there's a regime collapse, but not a regime change," he said.

When asked whether Israel was prepared to act alone, Netanyahu said Syria's stockpile was a "common concern" and that "we'd have to see if there was a common action to address that concern."

Netanyahu said he believes the fall of the regime is inevitable, but that it could take days, weeks or months.

Also Sunday, Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, told Israel's Army Radio that "right now, they (the Syrian regime) are maintaining control of these arsenals as best they can."

Barak made it clear that Israel is preparing for the worst. "I've ordered the Israeli military to prepare for a situation where we would have to weigh the possibility of carrying out an attack" against Syrian weapons arsenals, he told Channel 2 TV on Friday.

On Sunday, he told reporters, "the state of Israel cannot accept a situation where advanced weapons systems are transferred from Syria to Lebanon."

The possibility that the bloodshed in Syria could spill over Israel's frontier has become an even more tangible worry as the fighting intensifies in Assad's strongholds and near the frontier with the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Israel captured the territory from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war.

Barak warned last week that Israel would stop Syrian refugees from entering the Golan should they try to flee there.

The head of military intelligence voiced concern that Syrian territory bordering the Golan could become a haven for militant groups, much like Egypt's Sinai desert has become a launching pad for attacks on southern Israel.

Defense officials have said Israeli troops in the Golan have not been put on a war footing.

Caught in the middle are Druse Arab students from the Golan Heights. Druse families have asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to evacuate their children studying in universities in the Syrian capital – but the agency cannot do that because of the fierce fighting there, according to Ran Goldstein, a spokesman for the Red Cross in Tel Aviv.

Officials estimate that 100 to 200 Druse students remain in Syria. They say about 40 returned to the Golan last month.

Druse Arab students receive permits to cross into Syria for university studies that the Syrian government underwrites.

One Druse father in the Golan said other parents had pleaded with the Red Cross to evacuate their children, but his son refused to leave Damascus, saying he was a few months short of finishing his theater studies there.

"I want him by my side," said the father, who requested anonymity because he feared Syrian officials might take revenge against his 22-year-old son.


Associated Press writers Tom Strong in Washington and Diaa Hadid in Jerusalem contributed reporting.

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lebanon Hussein Ali Omar, 60, one of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims that Syrian rebels have been holding for three months in Syria, hugs his mother, right, upon arrival at his house in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, 2012. Syrian rebels freed Omar on Saturday in a move aimed at easing cross-border tensions after a wave of abductions of Syrian citizens in Lebanon. The Shiite pilgrims were abducted May 22 after crossing into Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

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France24 correspondents Matthieu Mabin and Sofia Amara report from the front lines of a rebel offensive against the Syrian army in Damascus.

Watch the exclusive report in the video below.

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syria This image made from video and released by Shaam News Network and accessed Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, purports to show the funeral of children in Daraya, near Damascus, Syria. Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters broke into a Damascus suburb on Thursday following two days of shelling and intense clashes as part of a widening offensive by President Bashar Assad's forces to seize control of parts of the capital and surrounding areas from rebel fighters, activists said. At least 15 people were killed in the offensive on Daraya, only a few miles (kilometers) southwest of Damascus. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network SNN via AP video)

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Clashes between Assad supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime killed two people in Lebanon on Friday, the Associated Press reports. 17 people were injured.

The AP gives more context:

Syria was in virtual control of its smaller neighbor for many years, posting tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon, before withdrawing under pressure in 2005. Even without soldiers on the ground, Syria remains influential, and its civil war has stirred longstanding tensions that have lain under Lebanon's surface.

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lebanon A Sunni gunman fires a gun during clashes that erupted between pro and anti-Syrian regime gunmen in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. The latest round of fighting first erupted on Monday in northern Lebanon and at least 15 have been killed in Tripoli this week and more than 100 have been wounded in fighting that is a spillover from Syria's civil war. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

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@ KenRoth : UN reports 200,000 #Syria refugees, 30,000 in past week alone. Many more internally displaced not counted.

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syria Syrian boy Musataf Alhafiz, 11, who fled his home with his family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, carries his brother Saif, 9 months, while he and others take refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey, near the Syrian town of Azaz, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. Thousands of Syrians who have been displaced by the country's civil war are struggling to find safe shelter while shelling and airstrikes by government forces continue. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

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Helicopter gunships shelled Damascus on Wednesday as Syrian security forces intensified their assault on the capital. Activists report that at least 47 people were killed.

"The whole of Damascus is shaking with the sound of shelling," a woman in the neighborhood of Kfar Souseh told Reuters.

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@ jenanmoussa : Graphic. We saw in a mosque in #Syria these 4 children staring at dead body. Pic by @HaraldDoornbos: #warsucks @akhbar

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lebanon Lebanese commandos ride in an armored personnel carrier in preparation to enter the area of clashes between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime, in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012. The civil war in Syria is affecting its fragile, tiny neighbor Lebanon in countless ways and has already spilled over into sectarian street clashes, kidnappings and general government paralysis.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

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Activists say that Syrian security forces swept through two districts in Damascus on Wednesday, killing at least 31 suspected opposition fighters. The Associated Press reports that the army may have been targeting rebel teams that had been using the Nahr Eishah and Kfar Soussa neighborhoods to shell a nearby military airport.

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@ AP : Russia says Western powers are "openly instigating" opposition groups in Syria: -SC

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