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Israel, US conduct joint missile test over Mediterranean


Sparrow missile. A US Navy photo

JERUSALEM (PTI): Israel and the US have conducted a joint missile test over the Mediterranean Sea, triggering jitters about possible military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The missile test on Tuesday was first reported by Russia's state-run media, adding to worldwide fears of a possible US-led strike against the embattled Syrian regime over an alleged chemical weapons attack last month which killed over 1,400 people.

Israel's Defence Ministry later announced it had successfully tested a new version of the Sparrow target missile, which is part of the indigenously developed Arrow anti-missile system.

The US Defence Department confirmed that it "provided technical assistance and support" for Israel's missile test.

But Pentagon spokesman George Little said the "test had nothing to do with US' consideration of military action to respond" to Syria's alleged chemical weapons attack.

Financial markets around the world initially dived on concerns triggered by the test but later recovered.

The test was carried out with the US Missile Defence Agency, the Israeli Defence Ministry said in a statement.

"This is the first flight test of this new version of the Sparrow, and was conducted at an Israeli test range over the Mediterranean Sea," the statement said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier on Tuesday warned against any attack on Israel in response to threats from radical elements in West Asia.

"The reality around us is changing. I want to say to anyone who wants to harm us it is not advisable," Netanyahu said on the margins of an official event in Beersheba.

Analysts believe Tuesday's missile test was part of preparations against a possible long-range missile attack on Israel in retaliation to any US-led military action against Syria.

The missile test came at a time of heightened tensions as Washington mulls sea-launched strikes against Syria.

Israel has been increasingly concerned that it will be drawn into Syria's civil war that has spilled over into neighbouring countries.

Since the weekend, the Obama administration has been lobbying for congressional support for military action against Syria. The US says it has evidence that Assad's forces launched a chemical weapons attack on civilians near Damascus on August 21.

The US has alleged that the nerve agent sarin was used and that at least 1,429 people were killed, including over 400 children.

Last week, President Barack Obama appeared poised to authorise military strikes, but stepped back to first seek approval from Congress, which returns from recess next week.

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