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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 September 2007, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
New twist to Syria-Israel tension
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Damascus

Damascus street scene. File photo
Many Syrians have been dismissive about any talk of war with Israel
The alleged violation of Syrian airspace by Israeli warplanes was announced by the official state news on Thursday afternoon.

It is not clear why it took the Syrian authorities almost 12 hours to make the reported incident public. The Israeli military, for its part, has made no public comment on the matter.

But in a summer where the two countries seem to have oscillated from possible war to possible peace talks, this incident will have left some officials in Damascus jittery.

Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told al-Jazeera TV that Syria's leadership was "giving serious consideration to its response... to this aggression".

Caught by surprise

It seems unlikely, however, that Syria will resort to anything more than public denouncements of the alleged incident.

The alleged incursion happened near Tall al-Abyad

But the alleged violation of Syria's airspace will serve only to heighten tensions between the two countries.

That it apparently happened in the country's north, close to the Turkish border - and not in the south, where Syria and Israel share a border - has taken many people here by surprise.

Syria and Israel remain technically in a state of war, and peace talks broke down in 2000 over the fate of the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East War.

Both sides have generally kept the border area quiet.

Syrian officials - including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - say that they want peace with Israel through negotiation.

But they insist that in return for any peace agreement, Israel must return the entire Golan Heights.

Israel accuses Syria of supporting Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamic movement, which it fought against last summer.

The Syrian government also harbours Palestinians that Israel - and much of the Western world - regards as terrorists. They include the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal.

War talk

In Damascus, news about Israel dominates the newspapers and airwaves.

But when that news directly affects Syria it is a different matter.

At a swanky cafe in downtown Damascus, customers put their sandwiches back on their plates as the news broke on TV.

One of the waiters rushed to get the remote control, and the TV's volume - normally background noise - was raised. For a few minutes, everyone, both staff and customers, was quiet.

Over the past few months, many people here dismissed the talk of war as a lot of hot air.

This reported incident might challenge that assumption.

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26 Jul 07 |  Country profiles

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