An unnamed White House official on Thursday confirmed to CNN that the explosions noted Wednesday night at a Syrian military base near the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia were the result of an Israeli strike "on missiles and related equipment" that were slated to be transferred to Hezbollah. Israel and Syria have kept mum on the matter.
The weapons destroyed are believed to be SA-8 Gecko missiles, which are Russian-made low-altitude, short-range surface-to-air missiles.
When asked for comment, an Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman told CNN: "We don't comment on foreign reports."
Eyewitnesses said Thursday that while the site that was struck is officially known as an agricultural institute, it was well known that it was a front for undercover security activity.
"During the night, we noticed much aircraft activity," an eyewitness told the Lebanese Al-Mustaqbal news outlet. "At a certain point, we were woken up by the sound of blasts and we saw a large fire and many explosions at the agricultural institute. Military and security forces arrived at the scene, put out the flames and closed off the entire area for kilometers."
A report by the Saudi-based Al Arabiya network alleged that Israeli warplanes struck targets west of Damascus as well. The report was not corroborated by any official source.
Syria's state media ignored all the reports of the incident, including those featured in the Arab media. Lebanese media, including the Hezbollah-affiliated Al Manar TV reported only of "explosion sounds in a Syrian base."
Lebanese TV channel MTV quoted unnamed Jerusalem sources as allegedly saying Turkey was behind the strike on the "agricultural institute," saying it was a retaliation for an incident that took place in the same area several weeks ago, in which the Syrian air force downed a Turkish helicopter.
MTV further quoted a Syrian official as saying that the strike targeted "weapons that worry Israel" and that "no significant damage occurred on the base."
Meanwhile, Syria has destroyed or rendered inoperable all of its declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities, meeting a major deadline in an ambitious disarmament program, the international chemical weapons watchdog said Thursday.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace prize this month, said its teams had inspected 21 out of 23 chemical weapons sites across the country. The remaining two were too dangerous to reach for inspection but the chemical equipment had already been moved to other sites that experts had visited, it said.
Syria "has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable," it said, meeting a November 1 deadline for the work.
At one location it could not visit, the OPCW said it was able to verify destruction work remotely, while Syrian forces had abandoned the two sites it could not inspect at all.
Syrian authorities said that "the chemical weapons program items removed from these sites were moved to other declared sites", an OPCW document said. "These sites holding items from abandoned facilities were inspected."
Under the disarmament timetable, Syria was due to render unusable all production and chemical weapons filling facilities by November 1. By the middle of next year it must have destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical weapons.
The OPCW has not said which locations it had been unable to inspect, but a source briefed on their operations said one was at Safira, southeast of Aleppo in the north of the country. The site itself remains under government control but has been emptied of equipment because of fighting nearby.