Syrian defence minister says army can't be beaten

BEIRUT Tue Feb 5, 2013 3:22am IST

Members of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk with their weapons at Darya near Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA on February 4, 2013. REUTERS/SANA/Handout

Members of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk with their weapons at Darya near Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA on February 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/SANA/Handout

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's defence minister said the army had proved it would not be defeated in its confrontation with rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, but declined to say whether it would respond to an Israeli air strike last week.

"This heroic Syrian Arab army proved to the world that it is a strong army, a trained army, an army that cannot be broken," Fahed al-Freij told state television in an interview broadcast on Monday.

He did not say whether Syria would retaliate against an Israeli raid on Wednesday which diplomats and security sources said targeted a convoy of weapons destined for Syria's ally Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon.

Syria said the attack struck vehicles and buildings at a military research centre at Jamraya, north-west of Damascus and close to the Lebanese border.

Freij portrayed Israel's attack as a response to the failure of the rebels, who he described as "tools" of the Jewish state, to destroy the Jamraya complex.

"Why does Syria not respond? It's the Israeli enemy which responded ... When the Israeli enemy saw that its tools were being pursued, and they did not achieve their results, it intervened," he said.

"It is a response to our military work against the armed gangs."

Syria protested last week to the United Nations over the Israeli raid, saying it considered it a violation of a military disengagement accord following their last major war in 1973.

Its ambassador to Lebanon also warned that Syria could decide on a "surprise" response to the attack.

Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak implied his country was behind the raid but officials have otherwise maintained silence, just as they did when Israel bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear site in 2007.

That attack did not prompt military retaliation.

(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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