JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a ‘butcher’ who should be thrown out of the country along with his Iranian allies.
“In my personal opinion, Assad is a butcher who massacred and murdered people,” Lieberman told a conference of Jews from the former Soviet Union, on Thursday night.
“I think that in the end it is in our interest that he and the Iranians be thrown out of Syria,” he said in an audio clip of the conference in the Red Sea resort of Eilat released by his office.
Assad has the support of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement and, since last year, the Russian air force.
Hezbollah, which fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006, has sent thousands of its fighters to support Syrian government troops.
More than 310,000 people have been killed since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, and over half the population has been displaced, with millions becoming refugees.
“From a moral point of view we cannot accept such a massacre in front of the eyes of the entire world, with chemical weapons,” Lieberman said.
The Jewish state has sought to limit its involvement in the conflict, but has carried out sporadic sorties against Hezbollah inside Syria.
Several Israeli missiles struck near the Mazzeh airbase near Damascus last week without causing any casualties, Syrian state media reported.
The target was symbolic. It houses the headquarters of the feared air force intelligence service, a bedrock of Assad’s rule.
It was the second time in eight days that Israel had targeted positions outside Damascus.
Speaking to EU ambassadors on Wednesday, Lieberman spoke of his country’s defence policy.
“We are working first and foremost to ensure the security of our citizens and defend our sovereignty and we are trying to prevent the smuggling of advanced weapons, military equipment and weapons of mass destruction from Syria to Hezbollah,” he said, according to a statement from his office.
Last week’s missile strikes were carried out from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.