Four civilians were killed in an Israeli airstrike in southern Syria on Monday evening that the Israeli army said targeted military positions, pro-Damascus al-Watan newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The Israeli strike followed an attempted border attack the day before, which Israel initially said was planned by Lebanese group Hezbollah, but officials later claimed it was likely Iran that was behind it.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a warning "to everyone, including Hezbollah" that Israel "will do whatever we have to do to protect ourselves."
Those killed were hit with an Israeli shell, according to Syrian reports. They were reported to be residents of the village Ein al-Qadi in the Golan area of Quneitra, and were reportedly marching near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria when they were struck by a shell.
Syrian state media initially reported that the Israeli airstrike caused "material damage only."
The Israeli army said they were members of a local cell that attempted to plant explosive devices along the border, but the Syrian report denied the Israeli account, claiming they aren't members of any armed group. One of them was identified as a government official.
In a statement issued Monday by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, he initially said Hezbollah was responsible for the incident, but a correction that his office sent out moments later omitted any reference to the Iran-backed Lebanese group, and only referred to “terrorists.”
- Iran, Not Hezbollah, Likely Behind Attempted Attack on Syrian Border, Israeli Officials Say
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- Israeli Army Says Thwarted Attempt to Plant Explosives on Syrian Border
Iran has used other similar local groups and Shi’ite militia members, who were sent to Syria to aid the Assad regime in the civil war, for similar purposes in the past.
If it were indeed an Iranian-backed unit behind the incident, then it was probably a response to a series of recent airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria attributed to Israel.