Escalation in the Golan
Israeli tanks are seen close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, near Alonei Habashan in the Golan Heights November 7, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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An errant bullet shot from Syria struck near an Israel Defense Forces outpost in the Golan Heights on Thursday, grazing and lightly wounding an Israeli soldier.

The incident took place after Israeli defense sources told Haaretz that stray mortar shells fired from Syria that have landed in the Golan in the past week are the result of the low level of expertise among the Syrian armed forces deployed in the area, adding that the shelling does not indicate the Syrian regime is trying to stir conflict with Israel.

Fighting in the Golan Heights area has intensified of late, as Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and opposition forces struggle to seize control of the Syrian villages close to Israeli territory.

Israel's defense establishment is convinced that security incidents involving Syria over the last two weeks, including the mortar shells that landed in the Golan in recent days, were the errant effects of fighting spilling over the border.

Mortar shells are considered an imprecise weapon and it is believed that, in certain instances, Assad's forces missed their targets among the rebels and instead struck just west, inside Israeli territory. This imprecision seems to have been the reason behind another security incident, in which a stray bullet struck the jeep of an Israel Defense Forces officer two weeks ago.

Syrian fighting in the Golan is centered in two villages, Bir Ajam and Barika, both located in the demilitarized zone about two kilometers east of the Israeli moshav Alonei Habashan, and some eight kilometers south of the Syrian town of Quneitra.

Hundreds of armed rebels have barricaded themselves in these two villages, apparently assuming that their proximity to the Israeli border will limit the operational freedom of the Syrian forces against them - due to the restrictions imposed by the cease-fire agreement signed between Israel and Syria after the Yom Kippur War, and the fear that it could lead to confrontation with Israel.

The Syrian army is trying to push the rebels away from the area, particularly through the use of artillery fire from afar.

The rebels have also taken up positions in villages north of Quneitra, near the border, including in Jubeita al-Kashab. From there, the rebels could try to cut off the Quneitra district and seize control of the southern part of the road leading to Damascus.

Syria sent a message to Israel via the United Nations on Tuesday promising to increase its supervision of its armed forces near the Golan Heights and to prevent any more errant shooting, Channel 1 reported on Tuesday.

The IDF responded with fire of its own twice this week, for the first time since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. On the first occasion, on Sunday, the IDF launched a Tammuz missile as a warning shot into open Syrian territory. The second time, on Monday, IDF tanks fired artillery at a Syrian mortar position and scored a direct hit, apparently wounding two of Assad's soldiers.