Syria claims'provocation' as warplanes buzz President

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The Independent Online

Israeli warplanes "buzzed" the summer residence of the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, yesterday in an attempt to pressure him to secure the release of the abducted Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit.

Military officials said the warplanes flew over President Assad's palace near the coastal port city of Latkia. Television reports said the Syrian President had been at home during the pre-dawn flights.

Mr Assad was apparently targeted because Israel believes there are close links between Syria and Hamas. Khaled Mashaal, the exiled Hamas political bureau chief widely believed by many Palestinians as well as Israel as having sanctioned the raid in which Cpl Shalit was abducted last Sunday, is based in Damascus.

Military officials said the aircraft flying low had made a "noise" on the ground but did not say whether they created sonic booms of the sort generated in Gaza yesterday.

State-run Syrian television said two Israeli arciraft had flown over the country's Mediterranean coast in an "aggressive act and a provocation". Quoting an unnamed Information Ministry official, it claimed "national air defences opened fire in the direction of the planes, and they dispersed."