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Israeli military responds to fire from Syria in Golan Heights

Syrians from the border village of Rafied (background), seen from the Israeli side of the border, on 24 March 2013. Reports state that the Syrians are on their way to the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria next to a UN post to avoid the fighting between the Syrian Army forces loyal to Assad regime and the armed opposition. (ATEF SAFADI/EPA)

The Israeli army said it targeted a Syrian army position with an antitank missile Sunday after one of its patrols came under fire from the Syrian side of the frontier on the Golan Heights, the latest flare-up in a zone made increasingly volatile by Syria’s civil war.

An Israeli military official said the Syrian firing appeared to be deliberate, unlike previous incidents in which errant shells from fighting between rebels and government forces in Syria landed in Israel-held territory.

The cease-fire line between Israeli and Syrian forces on the Golan, which had been quiet for decades, has become increasingly unsettled as fighting has intensified between Syrian government troops and rebels in the area near the frontier.

After shots were fired at an Israeli patrol vehicle early Sunday, Israeli forces launched a Tamuz-guided antitank missile that destroyed a Syrian machine-gun position identified as the source of fire, military officials said. There was no immediate response from Syria.

The incident followed a similar shooting Saturday, when an Israeli patrol jeep was hit by gunfire from the Syrian side, causing light damage but no casualties, the army said. The exchanges led to the temporary suspension of nearby work on a new Israeli border fence along the Golan frontier, according to the military.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned in a statement that if Israeli forces are fired on from Syria, Israel will “immediately silence the sources of fire when they are identified.”

“We view the Syrian regime as responsible for every breach of sovereignty,” Yaalon said. “We will not allow the Syrian army or any other element to violate Israel’s sovereignty by shooting into our territory.”

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, later annexing it in a move that was not recognized internationally.

Israel last fired antitank missiles at Syrian positions in November when gunfire and mortar rounds from the fighting in Syria struck Israeli-held territory.

This month, Syrian rebels detained 21 Filipinos serving in a United Nations observer force that patrols between Israeli and Syrian lines on the Golan. After being held for four days, the peacekeepers were released unharmed at the border with Jordan.



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