CNN exclusive: Syria's deputy foreign minister says his country will retaliate against Israel
NEW: The U.N. secretary-general expresses "grave concern" over the reported attack
Witness: "Everything kept exploding. ... We could hear people screaming"
Israel prepares for potential rocket attacks, closes northern airspace to civil flights
A series of massive explosions illuminated the dark sky over Damascus early Sunday, igniting renewed claims that Israel has launched attacks into the war-torn country.
Syria’s government said the explosions were the second Israeli airstrike in three days. The latest target, officials said, was a military research facility outside the Syrian capital. A top Syrian official told CNN in an exclusive interview that the attack was a “declaration of war” by Israel.
Syrian authorities vowed to retaliate against Israel but did not specify what action they would take.
The Israeli military would not confirm or deny the Syrian claim that Israel fired rockets that hit the Jamraya research center in the Damascus suburbs.
“We do not comment on these reports at all,” an Israeli military representative said.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “grave concern” over the reports of Israeli airstrikes in Syria Sunday but stressed that the U.N. is not “in a position to independently verify what has occurred,” his spokesman said.
Sunday’s explosions mark the third time Israel has been accused of striking inside Syria this year.
The blasts rocked a large military area in the suburbs of Syria’s capital, prompting terrified residents nearby to run for cover.
“Everything kept exploding over and over again,” said Anna Deeb, whose family lives just over a mile away. “We could hear gunshots, we could hear people screaming. … We didn’t know what to do, and there was a problem with us breathing because the smoke was too much.”
Syrian state-run TV claimed that the Israeli rocket attack on the research center aided rebels, who have been battling government forces in the region. And the government’s Syrian Arab News Agency said mortar shells “fired by terrorists” damaged residential neighborhoods nearby. But state media reports did not provide details about what type of research occurs in the facility, or how much damage occurred there after Sunday’s attack.
Even with details about the explosion unclear, tensions ran high in the volatile region Sunday amid word of the reported attack, which was condemned by some officials across the Middle East.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad said the attack represented an alliance between Islamic terrorists and Israel.
“When they attack, this is a declaration of war. This is not something t