IDF Fires at Syria Army Position After Officer Wounded by Errant Fire

Syrian war trickles into Israel, mortar shells hit Golan Heights; Syrian rebels take control of Quneitra crossing after heavy fighting with Assad forces; army declares area a closed military zone.

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Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria
Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria

An Israeli sustained light injuries on Wednesday from a mortar shell that exploded in Kibbutz Ein Zivein in the Golan Heights.

The incident came hours after Israel Defense Forces gunners launched artillery at a Syrian army position, in response to the fire that lightly-to-moderately wounded an IDF officer along the border, as the battle between rebel and regime forces trickled into Israel. The IDF identified a direct hit.

The IDF holds the Syrian army responsible for the incident and for the round of mortar shells that landed in Israel after hours of heavy battle between the rebels and armed forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

The army has declared the area around the crossing and Mount Bental as a closed military zone.According to witnesses, a part of the border crossing has caught fire, including on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, as have landed in agricultural fields on Israeli territory.

The exact identity of the rebels fighting near Quneitra remains unclear. Observers surmise they either belong to the Free Syrian Army or the Islamic Front, and it is not the first time they have tried to take control of the area.

The IDF on Wednesday were reacting cautiously to the development. Farmers in the Quneitra Valley were asked to keep their distance from the border fence. The army asked farmers in other nearby areas to be careful. Restrictions along the Golan Heights border stem from fear of errant fire from Syria, including the closing of Route 98 from Ein Zivan to El Rom. However, tourists in the area related that they did not receive any special instructions and did not know about the road being closed.

Shefi Mor, who is in charge of tourism for Merom Golan, told Haaretz that the kibbutz's holiday resort is fully booked, that the Golan is full of visitors, and that no one has received any orders to evacuate. The situation is similar for farmers, according to him. Some went out to work their fields, while others opted to stay away from them on Wednesday. "We've heard a lot of explosions," said Mor.

On Saturday night, five 122-milimeter rockets were fired at the Israeli side of the Golan, causing no injuries. Israeli soldiers and police searched the area for remains of the rockets. A security source as well as IDF officials said the five rockets were fired on purpose at Israel and were not a result of errant spillover from the fighting between rebels and government forces. Observers say a Palestinian faction was behind the fire, although a security source told Haaretz the exact identity of the rocket launchers had not been discerned.

A rocket was also fired into the Golan Heights five weeks ago, landing in an open field next to an IDF post. The IDF returned fire at targets in Syria. Last week an errant mortar shell fired from Syria landed in Israeli-controlled territory, and the IDF responded by firing a Tamuz missile at a Syrian position in the region from where the shell originated.

The IDF at the time commented that it fired back after several such incidents and after submitting a complaint to UN peacekeeping forces along the Israeli-Syrian border.

The Quneitra Crossing between Syria and Israel, August 27, 2014.Credit: Gil Eliahu

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