May 4, 2013 / 9:05 PM / in 4 years

Obama on airstrikes: Israel has to guard against Hezbollah

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development hosted by INCAE, a Costa Rican business school, and the Inter-American Development Bank, in San Jose May 4, 2013.Juan Carlos Ulate

SAN JOSE (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday that Israel has the right to guard against the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah a day after Israel attacked a Hezbollah-bound missile shipment in Syria.

Israel has long made clear it is prepared to resort to force to prevent advanced Syrian weapons from reaching Hezbollah or jihadi rebels. Israeli warplanes went after the shipment inside Syria, where a two-year civil war is raging.

Obama, in an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo as part of a three-day Latin America tour that ended in Costa Rica, would not comment on whether the airstrikes had in fact taken place.

"I'll let the Israeli government confirm or deny whatever strikes that they've taken," he said.

But Obama, who visited Israel in March, made clear such strikes would be justified.

"What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. We coordinate closely with the Israelis recognizing they are very close to Syria, they are very close to Lebanon," he said.

Obama's government is seeking to determine whether Syria used chemical weapons against its own people to quash a rebellion.

He said on Friday he does not envision sending U.S. troops to Syria regardless of whether chemical weapons use is determined but he has a number of other options under review.

Reporting By Steve Holland in San Jose and Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Doina Chiacu

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