BEIRUT — Syrian opposition leaders and rebels on Friday slammed President Bashar Assad for not responding to a rare Israeli airstrike near Damascus, calling it proof of his weakness and acquiescence to the Jewish State.
The opposition's sharp reaction underlines how those seeking to topple the Syrian leader might be more prepared to tangle with Israel if they came to power.
Wednesday's Israeli airstrike that U.S. officials say hit a convoy of anti-aircraft weapons bound for the militant Lebanese Hezbollah group also has fueled rage among many Syrians who say they now must fear warplanes from both Assad's forces and Israel.
"Assad never once in his life stood up to Israel," said Kamal Labwani, a prominent Syrian dissident and member of the Syrian National Coalition, an umbrella group of those trying to oust Assad. "All he ever did is 'reserve the right to retaliate' but he never retaliated against anyone other than the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army."
Syria's army chief of staff, Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayoub, warned Friday against testing his country's capabilities.
That was a day after Syria's ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul-Karim Ali, said Damascus "has the option and the capacity to surprise in retaliation," but that it was up to the relevant authorities to choose the time and place.
Up to now, the Jewish state has refrained from actions that could be interpreted as intervention in Syria's civil war. But the Syrian government's overall response to this week's airstrike was seen as passive, and most Syrians said they did not expect their military to retaliate.
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