ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan condemned on Tuesday Israeli air strikes on targets near Damascus, saying they were an opportunity for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to cover up its own killings.
"The air strike Israel carried out on Damascus is completely unacceptable. There is no rationale, no pretext that can excuse this operation," Erdogan told a parliamentary meeting of his ruling party.
"These attacks are chances, opportunities offered on a golden tray to Assad and to the illegitimate Syrian regime. Using the Israel attack as an excuse, he is trying to cover up the genocide in Banias," he said. Erdogan was referring to a Syrian coastal town where anti-Assad activists said at least 62 people were killed by government fighters over the weekend.
Israeli officials said the air strikes on Friday and Sunday were not intended to influence its neighbor's civil war but only at stopping Iranian missiles from reaching Lebanese Hezbollah militants for possible use against the Jewish state.
Iran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee complained to the United Nations about the air strikes, describing them as "provocative and unwarranted attacks."
"Nothing can justify the use of force and act of aggression against a sovereign state and the aggressor must be held accountable for any consequences stemming from this condemnable and illegitimate act which endangers regional and international peace and security," Khazaee wrote.
Residents and opposition sources said the Israeli warplanes struck elite Syrian troops in the valley of the Barada River that flows through Damascus and on Qasioun Mountain overlooking the capital. They said targets included air defenses, Republican Guards and a compound linked to chemical weapons.
Lebanon, which borders both Israel and Syria, has also condemned the air strikes and called on the U.N. Security Council to condemn violations of its air space by Israel.
(Reporting by Jonathon Burch and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Nick Tattersall, Mark Heinrich and Vicki Allen)