Israel is stepping up its rhetoric against neighboring Syria, with senior officials publicly blaming Damascus for Tuesday's suicide bus bombings in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva. Syria denies the accusations and says Israel is heightening tensions in the region.
Shortly after the Beersheva attack, unnamed security sources were being quoted as pointing an accusing finger at Syria. But, now senior Israeli officials have come out publicly accusing Damascus of involvement.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the order for the Beersheva attacks came directly from the Damascus headquarters of the Islamic militant group, Hamas.
Other senior officials are also saying this latest provocation cannot be ignored. Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim says Israel has to consider military action.
Mr. Boim says Israel needs to draw what he calls a red line which cannot be crossed. But he says that any military action should be limited in order to not ignite a larger conflict.
In Damascus, the official Syrian news agency quotes Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara as saying the Israeli accusations lack credibility and any sort of evidence. He adds they will only heighten tensions in the region.
And, in a statement from Damascus, Hamas said the planning and execution of suicide attacks was carried out by local commanders in the Palestinian territories, not in the group's political office in Syria. Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal is based in Damascus.
Israel has long accused Syria of harboring and supporting groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizbollah, all of which have been behind numerous attacks against Israel over the years. All three groups are also listed as terrorist organizations by the State Department.
Syria denies it supports terrorism. Damascus says it has given refuge to some Palestinian militants who have not been allowed by Israel to return to their homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Officials insist Syria offers moral support but no military training.
Last October, Israel bombed what it said was a terrorist training camp inside Syria, following a suicide bomb attack on a restaurant in the port city of Haifa.
The question now is whether another such attack is imminent or if the recent statements are meant as a warning to Syria to crack down on the militant organizations.