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'IDF aircraft didn't attack'
Syrian minister admits it's unclear whether Israeli planes did anything more than intervene in Syrian airspace; nonethless, another minister warns of 'response to Israeli aggression'

Israeli aircraft "dropped bombs on an empty area while our air defenses were firing heavily at them," a Syrian official said Thursday, clarifying an earlier Syrian accusation that Israel had bombed its territory.  A Syrian minister admitted that it remained unclear whether the Israeli aircraft had actually carried out an attack.

 

"They intervened in our airspace... which they should not do -- we are a sovereign country and they should not come into airspace," Expatriate Affairs Minister Bussaina Shaaban told Al-Jazeera's English-language channel. 

 

"We do not know yet" if the aircraft dropped anything. "The investigation is still going on on the ground," she said.

 

Syrian officials did not specify the type or quantity of Israeli aircraft that purportedly crossed the border or describe the "munitions" dropped. Pilots sometimes jettison extra fuel tanks when warplanes come under fire to make the craft lighter and easier to maneuver.

 

Civilian witness accounts supported such a conjecture. Residents in the Tal al-Abiad area on Syria's border with Turkey said they spotted several fuel tanks.

  

Since the incident came to light, the Israeli leadership, particularly the Foreign Ministry and ambassadors in the US and Europe, have been working to calm the storm.  The Israeli government informed its diplomats abroad that it has no interest in aggression against Syria.  

 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert chose not to address the incident during a Thursday speech at a Kadima conference.  The IDF, also, refused to comment on Syria's claims, saying: "We do not comment on such reports."

 

Former major general Uzi Dayan said the military's silence was an indication of Israel's eagerness not to allow the incident to stoke tensions with Syria.

 

"Israel is active on many fronts in the Middle East but we have no intention to bring about a deterioration in the situation. That is why the Israeli reaction was so short and restrained," he told Israel's Channel Two television.

 

But while Israeli leaders are trying to smooth things over, some Syrian officials are doing the opposite.  "This shows that Israel cannot give up aggression and treachery," Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told Al Jazeera television. 

 

He added that Syria's leadership was "giving serious consideration to its response... to this aggression." 

The official news agency SANA, too, said Syria "reserves the right to respond according to what it sees fit."

 

And Syrian officials are not the only ones talking.  "It appears that the Israeli planes were on a reconnaissance mission when they got caught by Syrian defenses and were forced to drop their bombs and extra fuel tanks," said an anonymous Western diplomat in Syria's capital Damascus.

 

Russia, too, tendered a statement urging Israel to respect international law.  "The reports have caused extreme concern in Moscow," the Russian foreign ministry's statement read. "Particularly troubling is that this is the Middle East, a region already heavy with serious conflicts and tension."

 

Reuters, AP and AFP contributed to this report

 

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