First lady fires up the kids
JERUSALEM (AP) - Israeli defense officials said Wednesday they believe Hezbollah has Scud missiles that could hit all of Israel, a day after Israel's president accused Syria of supplying the Lebanese guerrillas with the weapons for the first time.
Israeli officials say the introduction of Scuds could alter the strategic balance with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia that battled Israel to a stalemate during a monthlong war in 2006.
President Shimon Peres, speaking in Paris, charged that Syria is playing a double game, talking about peace, while "it is delivering Scuds to Hezbollah to threaten Israel," according to a statement from his office.
The remarks by Peres, whose position is largely ceremonial, went beyond public assessments of senior Israeli defense figures. He gave no details.
In Washington, the Syrian Embassy dismissed the allegations and accused Israel of trying to divert attention from questions about Israel's nuclear program. Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear arms, though it does not confirm or deny this.
"If we are to discuss armament in our region, we should begin with Israel's massive nuclear weapons arsenal and continuous arming with top-caliber U.S. weapons, which helps perpetuate its occupation of our territories," said embassy spokesman Ahmed Salkini. "The timing also indicates a sinister attempt to undermine any U.S.-Syrian rapprochement."
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley expressed concern but did not confirm that Hezbollah now has Scud missiles.
"Regardless of the issue of Scuds, we remain concerned about the provision of increasingly sophisticated weaponry to parties, to Hezbollah, and this is an issue that we continue to raise with Syria," he said, adding that such weapons endanger Lebanon's security.
Some Scud missiles have a range of hundreds of miles (kilometers) and could reach any target in Israel if fired from Lebanon. They can carry an explosive warhead of up to 1 ton.
The defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a classified intelligence assessment, stopped short of stating unequivocally that Scuds are now deployed in Lebanon.
They said tensions have risen along Israel's border with Lebanon after media reports that Hezbollah was seeking the missiles, and they believed Hezbollah now has them.