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Israeli airstrikes may have exposed Syrian flaw, U.S. officials say

Unrest, Conflicts and WarNational GovernmentPoliticsIsraelBashar AssadWhite HousePatrick Leahy

WASHINGTON — Recent Israeli strikes inside Syria may have exposed weaknesses in the regime’s air defenses and could embolden the U.S. and its allies to take more steps to aid rebels fighting the regime there, said lawmakers on Sunday.

“The Russian-supplied air defense systems are not as good as said,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said on NBC’s "Meet the Press." Leahy, who heads the appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, said the Israeli defense forces were using American-made F-16 Fighting Falcon jets to launch the missiles against Syrian targets.

“Keep in mind the Israelis are using weapons supplied by us,” Leahy said. “They have enormous prowess with those weapons.”

Government-controlled media in Syria reported that Israel launched a strike near Damascus early Sunday, apparently marking the third such attack this year.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on "Fox News Sunday" that the Israeli airstrikes should “put more pressure” on the White House to aid forces fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. McCain said the U.S. should not send in troops but called for “game-changing action” by the U.S. rather than incremental steps.

McCain’s advice: “No American boots on the ground, establish a safe zone and protect it, and supply weapons to the right people in Syria who are fighting for obviously the things we believe in.”

U.S. officials said Israeli war planes last week targeted shipments of antiaircraft missiles in Syria that Israel believed were being sent to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Sunday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest wouldn’t comment on the reported Israeli strikes in Syria.

Earnest said Obama believes Israel is justifiably concerned about the threat posed by Hezbollah obtaining advanced weapons systems, including missiles. The U.S. "is in very close contact" with the Israeli government on a range of issues, Earnest added.

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington would not comment on the strike. Israel's policy in Syria is to take actions that prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry to Hezbollah.

The White House is weighing whether to arm Syrian rebels after intelligence reports indicated that the regime of Assad may have used nerve gas. In August, President Obama said the use of chemical weapons by Syria would spur the administration to more forceful actions against the regime. More than 70,000 people, most of them civilians, have died in the 2-year-old conflict, according to the United Nations.

Forces supporting Assad reportedly shelled a town in western Syria on Thursday 2 and killed more than 100 men, women and children. The White House was “horrified” by reports of the massacre in the town of Bayda, Earnest told reporters during Obama’s flight to give a graduation speech at Ohio State University in Columbus.

“Those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law and serious violations and abuses of human-rights law must be held accountable,” said Earnest on Sunday. “As Bashar al Assad continues to cling to power, we will not lose sight of the men, women and children who are being killed by his regime," he said. Earnest reiterated the president’s position that Assad must leave power.

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