Syria and its ally Iran have threatened retaliation for what they say was at least one Israeli air raid near Damascus Wednesday. Israel has stayed mute. Outgoing US top envoy Hillary Clinton says she fears a 'proxy war.'
Israel continues to refuse comment on claims made by Syria on Wednesday that warplanes had targeted a military research center. The US, meanwhile, says Vice President Joe Biden will meet Syrian opposition leader Mouaz Alkhatib in Europe.
That meeting due on Saturday in Munich on the fringe of a major security conference would be the highest-level US meeting with the Syrian opposition in its 22-month bid to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
Biden's meeting was intended to "bolster" the Syrian Opposition Council, said US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes during a conference call with reporters.
"The position of the United States is focused on supporting an end to the Assad regime," said Rhodes, adding that Biden would also discuss US humanitarian assistance for Syria's population displaced by fighting.
Fears of proxy war
Clinton, speaking in Washington shortly before being replaced by Senator John Kerry, said there were signs that Iran was sending more personnel and increasingly sophisticated weaponry to help Assad's forces battle Syrian rebels.
On Wednesday, security sources and Syrian rebels said Israeli jets had also bombed a convoy just inside Syria, hitting weapons apparently destined for the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. Those reports were denied by Syria's army.
Clinton said there was "a lot of concern" that Iran was boosting its deliveries, because "Assad is using up his weaponry."
She also urged Russia to rethink its support for Assad, saying it should "reconsider" what she said were continuing Russian deliveries of "financial and military assistance in the form of equipment to Assad."
"The worst kinds of predictions of what could happen internally and spilling over the borders of Syria are certainly within the realm of possibility now," Clinton said, adding that she feared a "potential proxy war" in the region.
She declined to comment of the claims that Israel had bombed Syria on Wednesday.
Syria, Iran threaten response
Syria's ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel Karim Ali, said Syria "may decide to respond by surprise to this aggression."
Iran's deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian warned of what he termed "grave consequences for Tel Aviv."
Russia's foreign ministry said it was still trying to verify Syria's allegation on the purported Israeli air raid and remained "deeply concerned."
The Britain-based opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 109 people were killed across Syria on Thursday. Syria's conflict has claimed more than 60,000 lives in 22 months.
ipj/slk (AFP, Reuters,)