Published On: Tue, May 21st, 2013

Syria, Israel exchange fire on Golan Heights

 

By Dominic Evans BEIRUT | Tue May 21, 2013 4:44pm BST A handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA shows a vehicle which it says is an Israeli military vehicle being used by rebel fighters in Qusair near Homs city

(Reuters) Syria said its troops destroyed an Israeli vehicle that crossed into its territory from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Tuesday and warned that any attempt to violate its sovereignty would meet immediate and firm retaliation.

Israel said the incident took place on its side of the Golan ceasefire line, that the vehicle was damaged but not destroyed, none of its soldiers were hurt and they returned fire.

The clash highlighted the potential for renewed conflict along a frontline that has become increasingly fraught after nearly four decades of calm overseen by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his father.

It also followed Israeli airstrikes near Damascus against suspected missile stockpiles two weeks ago, after which Syria threatened to retaliate.

Assad is battling a two-year-old uprising in which rebel forces, including radical Islamists, have taken swathes of rural territory and attacked army posts near the Golan frontier.

There are frequent reports of cross-border gunfire from Syria during clashes between army and rebel forces but Tuesdays incident was the first time since the start of the crisis that Syrias armed forces said they targeted Israels military.

Our noble armed forces destroyed an Israeli vehicle which entered from the occupied territories and crossed the ceasefire line, Syrias military leadership said in a statement broadcast on state media. The incident occurred at 1:10 am (11.10 p.m. British time, Monday), it said.

Shortly afterwards, Israeli forces fired two rockets towards a Syrian position, without causing any casualties, Syria said.

The Israeli militarys chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, said the Israeli army vehicle had been patrolling on the Israeli side of a border fence when it came under repeated fire.

They fire on it once. They fire on it twice. They fire on it a third time, from a clear Syrian position, he said in a speech. One time, okay. Two times, okay. Three times, too many. The position was destroyed.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said: Our policy on Syria is clear: We are not intervening there, of course, in the civil war But as for the situation in the Golan Heights, we are not allowing and we will not permit a spillover of fire into our territory.

AGGRESSION

Tension in the Golan Heights region has been fuelled by the fighting on the Syrian side and several recent abductions by rebel fighters of U.N. peacekeepers, who have monitored a narrow zone of separation between Syrian and Israeli troops since 1974.

The abductions led the Philippines government to say it was considering withdrawing its troops from the UNDOF observer mission. Austria, the other main troop contributor, is concerned that French and British calls to drop an EU arms embargo on Syrian rebels would render its continued presence untenable.

Adding to the sense of alert, the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said two weeks ago it was forming combat units to try to recapture the Golan, after Assad and Lebanons Hezbollah said they would support such operations.

The announcement followed Israels air strikes near Damascus against suspected missiles stocks destined for Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006.

Syrias Foreign Ministry sent a written complaint to the United Nations on Tuesday, saying Israels actions violated the United Nations charter and a 1974 military disengagement agreement between the two foes.

Syrias military command said the incident showed that Israel was supporting the anti-Assad rebels and aimed to raise their morale which collapsed after the tough blows struck by our noble armed forces especially in Qusair.

Syrias army, backed by Hezbollah, has launched an offensive to capture the central town of Qusair, which has been in rebel hands for most of the two-year uprising which has now killed more than 80,000 people, according to the United Nations.

The blatant Zionist aggression confirms that any violation, or attempted violation of the countrys sovereignty will be met with immediate and firm retaliation, the Syrian army said.

(Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

 

Source: Reuters

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