DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otari denounced Thursday the overflight of Israeli warplanes that buzzed the summer residence of President Bashar Assad, saying Syria can defend itself against any aggression.
Otari said the Israeli action was meant to divert attention from Israel's bombing of the Gaza Strip in the wake of Sunday's abduction of Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Militants linked to Hamas, which now controls the Palestinian government, claimed Shalit's abduction on Sunday.
"This aggression represents Israeli piracy that aims at covering up the savage crimes the Israeli occupation forces are committing in the Gaza Strip and occupied Palestinian lands," Otari said at a news conference with Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit.
"Syria is capable of defending itself if it's exposed to any aggression, and I am sure that the Arab masses would stand by it if the Zionist enemy contemplated a new adventure," he added.
Bakhit said Wednesday's overflights were a violation of international law, adding that the use of force does not accomplish any political gains.
"The flyover underscores once again the need to resort to international legitimacy ... logic and negotiations," Bakhit said. "Violence breeds violence and unilateral solutions are doomed to failure."
The two officials spoke a day after Syria's state-run television said two Israeli planes flew near Syria's Mediterranean coast early Wednesday and "national air defenses opened fire in the direction of the planes, and they dispersed." Assad's residence is in the western city of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.
The Syrian report, which quoted an Information Ministry official, did not mention the Israeli claim that the fighter jets had buzzed Assad's summer residence.
Israeli television reported that four planes were involved in the low-altitude flight, and that Assad was in the residence at the time. Israeli military officials said Assad was targeted because he has sheltered Hamas officials, including the group's top leader Khaled Mashaal, blamed by Israel for masterminding the kidnapping.
The Israeli action was seen as a message to pressure Damascus to use its influence with the militant Palestinian Hamas group to win the Shalit's release.
Syria's state-run media published news of early Wednesday's flyover on their front page, but government officials did not comment on the report.
Osama Hamdan, Hamas' Lebanon representative, told The Associated Press that Damascus would not be intimidated by the overflights.
"Experience has shown that this kind of pressure will not be a useful means with the Syrians or with us," Hamdan said.
Syrian lawmaker George Jabbour said he does not understand why Syria is being blamed for the kidnapping, "especially when it's so geographically far from the issue."
"The truth is that there is an (Israeli) occupation that has yielded a resistance that is legitimate by all criteria. How can we open up Olmert's head and insert this basic fact into it?" said Jabbour, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"Israel is introducing a new kind of terrorism in the region," he added.
Sulaiman Haddad, another Syrian lawmaker, said the overflights were "a threat and a violation of all legitimate international laws."
Wednesday's flyover was the second time Israel has buzzed Assad's summer palace. In August 2003, warplanes reportedly flew so low that windows in the palace shattered. At the time, Israel said the flyover was aimed at pressuring Assad to dismantle Palestinian militant groups based in his country.
In October 2003, an Israeli warplane bombed an Islamic Jihad training base deep in Syria. It was the first attack on Syrian soil in more than two decades. The airstrike followed a suicide bombing by Islamic Jihad that killed 19 Israelis in a restaurant.
The Syrian military rarely fires back on Israeli forces. The two militaries clashed in Lebanon in the 1980s during that country's civil war.
In 1996, Israeli warplanes raided positions in Beirut in response to rocket fire by the militant group Hezbollah. During those raids, Israel said Syrian air defenses fired on its planes, so the Israeli air force demolished a Syrian base.
But since then, the Syrians — whose military is far outmatched by Israel's — are not known to have fired on Israeli forces.