Israel was drawn into the Syrian civil war for the first time yesterday, firing warning shots into the neighbouring country after a stray mortar shell from across the border hit an Israeli military post.
The Israeli military said the mortar fire caused no injuries or damage at the post in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and then annexed. But in recent weeks, incidents of errant fire from Syria to the north have multiplied, leading Israel to warn that it holds Syria responsible for firing on Israeli-held territory.
“A short while ago, a mortar shell targeted an IDF (Israel Defence Forces) post in the Golan Heights,” said army spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich. “We answered with a warning shot toward Syrian areas.”
The Israeli military also said it filed a complaint through United Nations forces operating in the area, stating that “fire emanating from Syria into Israel will not be tolerated and shall be responded to with severity”. Israel returned fire with an anti-tank missile.
Yesterday, defence minister Ehud Barak was asked about warnings he and another senior official issued to president Bashar al-Assad last week to rein in Syrian sweeps against rebels near the Golan.
“The message has certainly been relayed. To tell you confidently that no shell will fall? I cannot. If a shell falls, we will respond,” Barak said, without elaborating.
Israel captured the Golan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed the strategic plateau in 1981. In all past peace talks with Israel, Syria has insisted on the Golan’s return.
The two countries signed a disengagement agreement in 1974 and though they are still technically at war the Golan had been mostly quiet since.