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15 Syrian soldiers killed in Israel strike

Syrian Observatory of Human Rights announced Monday that "15 soldiers were killed in an Israeli air strike" which targeted Syria on Sunday. The director of Syrian Observatory of Human Rights Rami Abdul Rahman said, according to initial reports, that 15 soldiers were killed and tens of others were unaccounted for after the Israeli strikes on Syrian military zone in northern Damascus, the capital of Syria. Rahman stated that normally 150 Syrians perform their duties in that military zone but the number of soldiers on duty during the air strike was unknown. UN leader Ban, meanwhile, warned against any escalation of a conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people in Syria since it erupted in March 2011. "The secretary-general calls on all sides to exercise maximum calm and restraint, and to act with a sense of responsibility to prevent an escalation of what is already a devastating and highly dangerous conflict," his spokesman Martin Nesirky said. "The secretary-general urges respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries in the region, and adherence to all relevant Security Council resolutions."

Ban spoke by telephone with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, whose 22-member bloc demanded UN Security Council intervention to stop such Israeli attacks.

Egypt condemned the raids as a "violation" of international law, Britain warned of "increasing danger" to the Middle East, and France called for a political solution to the conflict.

Russia, the Assad regime's most powerful ally, said it was "especially" concerned by the Israeli strikes, warning they threatened neighbouring Lebanon.

China implicitly criticised the Israeli strikes as Netanyahu arrived in Shanghai, saying "we are opposed to the use of force and believe that the sovereignty of any country should be respected".

The Syrian regime's main regional ally Iran said the strikes would shorten Israel's existence, and denied the weapons targeted were from the Islamic republic.

Damascus said in a letter to the Security Council that Israeli warplanes launched an "aggression," firing missiles against three army positions.

A diplomatic source in Beirut told AFP the sites were the Jamraya military facility, a nearby weapons depot and an anti-aircraft unit in Sabura, west of the capital.

The letter said claims Syria was transferring anything were "unfounded" and accused Israel of coordinating with "terrorist groups" -- the regime term for rebels fighting to oust Assad.

Official Al-Ikhbariya television quoted unnamed sources as saying that "Syrian missiles are ready to strike specific targets in case of any (further) violations".

Sunday's strike came about 48 hours after a reported Israeli raid on a weapons storage facility at Damascus airport.

Residents of the Damascus district of Dumar said Sunday's strike felt "like an earthquake".

Video footage appeared to show missiles lighting up clouds, blazing fires, and an explosion producing a massive orange fireball.

Israel reportedly targeted the Jamraya facility earlier this year, in a January 30 raid its officials have implicitly acknowledged.

UN human rights investigator Del Ponte meanwhile said there was evidence that Syrian rebels have used the deadly nerve agent sarin in their fight against Assad's forces.

"According to the testimonies we have gathered, the rebels have used chemical weapons, making use of sarin gas," the former UN war crimes prosecutor said in a Swiss radio interview.

"We still have to deepen our investigation, verify and confirm (the findings) through new witness testimony, but according to what we have established so far, it is at the moment opponents of the regime who are using sarin gas," she said.

US President Barack Obama has said the use of chemical weapons in the conflict was a "red line" for his administration but also that he does not foresee US troops on the ground in Syria.


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