updated 6/3/2005 6:06:27 AM ET 2005-06-03T10:06:27

Syria test-fired Scud missiles late last week, reinforcing Israeli fears that Damascus is giving top priority to a program to outfit missiles with chemical weapons and launch them at Israel, Israeli military officials said.

Israeli air defense systems detected the launch, they said, declining to elaborate. Israel and Syria have been enemies since Israel was established in 1948, when Syria sent troops to fight the new state. Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war.

One missile apparently broke up over Turkey.

Turkey’s military said what appeared to be debris from a missile originating in Syria was found in the southern Turkish province of Hatay on May 27, but has provided no information about either the type of missile or the incident. There were no damage or injuries, the military said.

Syria’s ballistic missilesThe New York Times quoted Israeli military officials as saying the tests were part of a Syrian program to develop missiles that can deliver chemical weapons. The missiles included one older Scud B, with a range of about 185 miles, and two Scud D’s with a range of about 435 miles, the Times said in its Friday editions.

All three were launched from northern Syria, near Minakh, north of Aleppo. One was sent about 250 miles to southernmost Syria, near the Jordanian border.

Turkish incident 'an accident'
Turkish and Syrian officials have been in contact regarding the incident and Turkey has been assured that the incident “was just an accident” that occurred “during routine military training,” a Turkish foreign ministry official said.

The official emphasized that relations between the two neighbors were positive and have been steadily improving. He pointed to a series of recent high-level visits between the two countries, including mutual visits by the countries’ presidents, and one by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s wife Emine Erdogan to Syria last month.

The tests may have been a signal to Lebanon, coming just two days before the first elections there since Syria’s grip on the country was shaken by the February assassination of the former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, a vocal opponent of Syrian influence.

Hariri’s son, Saad Hariri, a 35-year-old political novice who took over his father’s mantle in April, headed a ticket that won all 19 parliament seats up for grabs in the capital.

The elections, which continue the next three Sundays in other regions, are widely expected to propel other anti-Syrian politicians to power in the 128-seat parliament.

Hariri’s death touched off protests and international pressure that forced Damascus to withdraw its army from Lebanon after 29 years of political and military dominance. The opposition has blamed Syria and its Lebanese allies in the security services for the assassination, a charge Damascus has denied.

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