IAF planes fly over Assad's palace

Israel exerting pressure on Assad to expel Hamas leader Mashaal.

assad 298.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
assad 298.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
IAF planes flew over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's palace in the city of Latakia in northwestern Syria early Wednesday morning, officials revealed on Wednesday evening. The IDF said the flyover, carried out by four planes flying in a low-altitude pattern, was a part of an overall IDF operation aimed at pressuring the Syrian leadership to expel Hamas Politburo chief Khaled Mashaal from Damascus. According to Israel, Mashaal has been calling the shots out of the Syrian capital and orchestrated the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Syria responded by saying that its air defenses opened fire on the warplanes, forcing them to flee. State-run Syrian television said two Israeli planes flew near Syria's Mediterranean coast early Wednesday but did not mention Israel's announcement that the planes swooped low over the summer residence of Assad. "The overflight by two Israeli planes near the Syrian shores is an aggressive act and a provocation," the television news said, quoting an unindentified Information Ministry official. It said "national air defenses opened fire in the direction of the planes, and they dispersed." "If the goal of this (overflight) is to blame the political leadership of Hamas for the abduction of the Israeli soldier, then israel is making a big mistake that is goes beyond logic," the ministry official said, according to the TV report. The IDF raised the alert on its positions along the northern frontier out of concern Hizbullah would attempt to shell northern Israel in retaliation for the flyover. The alert was also raised in light of the situation in the Gaza Strip. Earlier, Justice Minister Haim Ramon said that Mashaal, was a target for assassination due to his ordering of the kidnapping of Shalit. "He is definitely in our sights ... he is a target," Ramon told Army Radio. "Khaled Mashaal, as some who is overseeing, actually commanding the terror acts, is definitely a target." Interior Minister and former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter said that the only reason Mashaal is not in an Israeli jail is that Israel, as an enlightened nation, has placed certain restrictions upon itself. Mashaal is allegedly responsible for the attack Sunday in which two soldiers were killed and a third kidnapped, Ramon said. Israel launched a ground offensive into the southern Gaza Strip early Wednesday in an effort to force the kidnappers to free the soldier. Israel tried to kill Mashaal in a botched assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997. Two Mossad agents injected Mashaal with poison, but were caught. As Mashaal lay dying in a Jordanian hospital, King Hussein of Jordan forced Israel to provide the antidote in return for the release of the Mossad agents. Binyamin Netanyahu, who was prime minister at the time, was also forced to release Hamas's spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin form Israeli prison. Yassin was killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza in March 2004. Ramon, who said Mashaal was the equivalent to Osama Bin Laden, called on the international community to force Syrian President Bashar Assad to expel Mashaal from Damascus, where he has operated freely for years. After the assassination attempt, Jordan's relationship with Hamas deteriorated and Mashaal was expelled to Qatar, where he lived before moving to Damascus.