A senior Syrian weapons engineer killed over the weekend when a bomb in his car exploded was killed in a targeted assassination by Israel’s security agency Mossad, The New York Times reported Tuesday, reinforcing accusations from Syria.
Aziz Azbar, a leading Syrian chemical weapons and rocket scientist, was killed along with his personal driver when his car exploded in the northern city of Masyaf late Saturday night. Masyaf is reportedly the location of one of Syria’s central weapons-development factories.
The unnamed source, speaking to the Times on condition of anonymity, told the paper that Israel was behind the attack and said his own intelligence agency had verified the Israeli operation. The Israeli government declined to comment on the report, but an official noted on Tuesday that it was “a good thing” that Azbar was dead.
“We obviously do not comment on these kinds of reports — neither confirming nor denying them — but we can talk about the man himself, who was responsible for putting high quality weapons in the hands of some bad people, and so we can say that the fact he is no longer with us is a good thing,” said Gilad Erdan, who heads the Public Security and Strategic Affairs ministries.
According to Israeli intelligence, Azbar was heading a classified weapons development program, called Sector 4, at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center and was working on re-building an underground weapons factory to replace the one said destroyed by Israel last year.
Azbar and his team were working to begin mass-producing precision-guided missiles by retrofitting SM600 Tishreen rockets, as well as on a solid-fuel plant for missiles and rockets – a safer alternative to liquid fuel. The Tishreen is a Syrian version of the Iranian Fateh-110, a missile with a range of 125 miles.
Azbar was said to be a close associate of Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps elite al-Quds Force, and enjoyed high-level access to both the Syrian and Iranian regimes. He also helped coordinate Hezbollah’s operation in Syria.
The Times said Azbar’s killing was “at least the fourth assassination mission by Israel in three years against an enemy weapons engineer on foreign soil.” Israel has been blamed for the killing of several scientists in recent years, including two Hamas engineers in the last 18 months.
Several strikes on Masyaf have also been attributed to Israel in recent years, the last of which was on July 22.
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