IDF says it made direct hit, believed to be on Syrian mobile artillery, in response to shell landing near post in Golan Heights
Israeli forces have fired into Syria for the second day in a row after a mortar shell landed close to an army post in the Golan Heights, amid fears that Israel could become sucked into the conflict across the border.
The Israeli military confirmed that tank shells fired by its troops in response to the mortar had made a direct hit. According to military sources, a Syrian mobile artillery battery was the target.
An Israeli government official hinted that the Damascus regime could be deliberately targeting the Golan. “Up until yesterday, our assessment was that ordnance that had fallen in Israel was a spillover from the internal conflict inside Syria. Our assessment has changed in the past 24 hours,” the official told the Guardian.
On Sunday, the Israel Defence Forces fired across the ceasefire line between Syria and the Golan Heights – which Israel has occupied since 1967 – for the first time since the Yom Kippur war almost 40 years ago.
Israel has filed complaints with the United Nations, whose forces patrol the demilitarised zone between Syria and the Golan, and warned that cross-border fire “will be responded to with severity”.
Mortars from Syria have landed in the Golan five times in the past week. There has also been some cross-border gunfire, and three Syrian army tanks briefly entered the demilitarised zone last weekend.
Some Israeli observers fear that Syria’s beleaguered president, Bashar al-Assad, may seek a confrontation with Israel as a way of rallying support for the regime after more than 18 months of civil war.
Israel’s military chief, Benny Gantz, warned a week ago that the “Syrian issue … could become our issue.”
On Sunday, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called for restraint from both Israel and Syria. “The secretary general is deeply concerned by the potential for escalation. He calls for the utmost restraint and urges Syria and Israel to uphold the disengagement agreement, respect their mutual obligations, and halt firing of any kind across the ceasefire line,” said a statement issued by his office.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 six-day war, and later annexed it. Although the two countries are still technically at war, the area has been relatively quiet. However, the Syrian government has demanded the return of the Golan as part of any peace agreement with Israel. About 20,000 Druze villagers living in the Golan identify strongly with Syria and there are close family links across the buffer zone.
The Israeli government has been reluctant to comment publicly on the civil war in Syria but it is deeply concerned about instability in the region. It says Islamic jihadists are increasingly operating in Syria, the Egyptian Sinai and Gaza.
Meanwhile, rockets continued to be fired from Gaza into southern Israel despite Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire after a weekend of escalating violence.
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told a gathering of 50 ambassadors in Ashkelon, a city close to the Hamas-governed territory, that Israel had “the right and obligation to defend its citizens”.
Amid speculation that Israel may be preparing a ground operation inside Gaza to halt rocket fire, Netanyahu said: “We will not sit idly in front of recurrent attacks that occur almost daily, against our citizens and our children … None of your governments would accept such a situation. We do not accept such a situation, and I as prime minister of Israel am not prepared to accept this situation, and we will act to stop it.”
More than 20 people were treated for shock after a rocket hit a house in Netivot on Monday morning. Six Palestinians, including four civilians, were killed in Israeli air strikes on Gaza over the weekend.