WASHINGTON — Israel launched an airstrike into Syria, apparently targeting a suspected weapons site, US officials said Friday night.
The strike occurred overnight Thursday into Friday, the officials told the Associated Press. It did not appear that a chemical weapons site was targeted, they said, and one official said the strike appeared to have hit a warehouse.
The US officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Israel has targeted weapons in the past that it believes are being delivered to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah. Earlier this week, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said his group would assist Syrian President Bashar Assad if needed in the effort to put down a 2-year-old uprising.
Also Friday, activists said that Syrian regime troops and gunmen from nearby Alawite areas beat, stabbed, and shot at least 50 people in the Sunni Muslim village of Bayda.
The slayings highlighted in the starkest terms the sectarian overtones of a conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people. Details of the killings came to light as the Obama administration said it was again weighing whether to arm the rebels.
Activists said fighting broke out in Bayda early Thursday and that at least six government troops were killed. Syrian forces backed by Alawite gunmen known as shabiha from the surrounding area returned in the afternoon and stormed the village, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The gunmen torched homes and used knives, guns, and blunt objects to kill people in the streets, the group said. It added that it has documented the names of at least 50 dead in Bayda, but that dozens of villagers are missing and the death toll could rise to as high as 100.
Israeli Embassy spokesman Aaron Sagui would not comment Friday night specifically on the report of an Israeli strike into Syria. ‘‘What we can say is that Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, specially to Hezbollah in Lebanon,’’ Sagui said in an e-mail to the Associated Press.
In 2007, Israeli jets bombed a suspected nuclear reactor site along the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria, an attack that embarrassed and jolted the Assad regime and led to a buildup of the Syrian air defense system. Russia provided the hardware for the defense systems upgrade and continues to be a reliable supplier of military equipment to the Assad regime.
The airstrike, first reported by CNN, came hours before President Obama told reporters at a news conference in Costa Rica on Friday that he didn’t foresee a scenario in which the United States would send troops to Syria. More than 70,000 peoples have died and hundreds of thousands have fled the country as the Assad regime has battled rebels.
The Israeli strike also follows days of renewed concerns that Syria might be using chemical weapons against opposition forces. Obama has characterized evidence of the use of chemical weapons as a ‘‘game-changer’’ that would have ‘‘enormous consequences.’’
While the United States has been providing nonlethal aide to opposition forces in Syria, the Obama administration has resisted calls from some American lawmakers to arm the rebels or to work to establish a no-fly zone to aid the insurgency.