Beirut, Aug 7 (IANS) Syria on Tuesday accused Israel of assassinating a top Syrian rocket scientist over the weekend, escalating tensions between the two countries.
Aziz Asbar, a research director at Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre, was killed on Saturday by an explosive device targeting his car in Masyaf town of Syria’s Hama province, according to Syria’s official news agency SANA.
Syrian press reports blamed Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency for the killing and said Asbar had survived two previous assassination attempts, also by Israeli agents, according to the New York Times.
The Al-Watan daily newspaper said he was killed because of his “important” work on Syrian defence systems.
An Israeli government spokesman declined to comment on the allegations.
The centre has long been linked by intelligence agencies to Syria’s chemical weapons programme. Israeli warplanes are suspected to have targeted the centre’s facility on at least two occasions over the past year, the Times reported.
Israel had carried out more than 100 airstrikes against targets in Syria since 2012 aimed either at Iranian military facilities or at attempts to transfer sophisticated weapons to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, the report said.
A branch of the centre outside Damascus was among the targets of US strikes in April and the US Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on the institution since 2005.
After the Syrian government carried out what independent inspectors said was a sarin gas attack that killed as many as 100 people in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in 2017, Washington also imposed sanctions on 271 individuals associated with the centre.
Asbar was not among them, perhaps because he was associated with Syria’s missile programme rather than the development of chemical weapons, according to the New York Times.
Syria’s missile development is a top concern of Israel, in part because of its worries over the expanding influence of Iran there.
The attack came as Syrian troops regained territory along the 1974 demarcation line separating the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria.
The two countries have been in a state of war since 1967, when Israel occupied the Golan Heights. Although no shots have been fired since the 1974 ceasefire, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues to press for the return of the territory.