Mortar shells land on Golan Heights (Illustration).
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Three mortar shells fired from Syria slammed into the Golan Heights on Tuesday, ramping up tensions on the northern border hours after IAF jets struck Syrian artillery guns and were targeted by two surface-to-air missiles fired at them from Syria in the predawn hours of Tuesday.
The Israeli jets had struck in southern Syria in response to earlier cross-border stray fire into Israel, in line with a policy of retaliating to each case, whether stray or deliberate.
The antiaircraft missile fire from Syria represents a significant escalation in the Assad regime’s response to Israeli retaliatory strikes. According to IDF assessments, the regime fired the surface-toair missiles as a signal of its growing confidence, against the background of the new cease-fire deal in place in the war-torn country, as well as recent battlefield successes.
The mortar fire is, on the other hand, being viewed as accidental by the IDF. Mortars exploded in villages in the northern Golan, and a third fell near Route 98, prompting police to shut the road briefly on Tuesday, before reopening it.
The IAF struck Syrian artillery positions four times in recent days in response to stray cross-border fire that saw Syrian shells explode in open areas of the Golan Heights. Intensive civil war battles have continued to rage on the Syrian Golan, despite the truce. After firing the missiles, the Syrian army claimed it had shot down an Israeli warplane and a drone, though such claims were promptly dismissed by Israel.
Syrian news agency SANA reported that President Bashar Assad’s forces shot down the Israeli aircraft in Syria, after the IAF struck in the southern Quneitra countryside.
However, the IDF said the missiles were nowhere near the vicinity of its aircraft, which had returned to base safely. On Monday evening, Syrian fire crossed into the northern Golan Heights as a nationwide cease-fire brokered by the US and Russia came into effect in the embattled country.
In response, the IAF attacked cannons belonging to the Syrian regime on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. The IDF considers the Syrian regime responsible for every action on its territory, and will not accept any attempt to hurt the sovereignty of the State of Israel and its residents’ safety, the army stated.
Eli Malka, head of the Golan Regional Council, responded to Monday night’s fire emanating from Syria saying: “There is no difference between spillover fire and intentional fire, a bomb is a bomb and poses a risk to human life. It is the responsibility of the defense minister and the IDF to convey a clear message to all parties on the other side of the border that all shots fired in the Golan will be treated as firing on Israel, and the IDF will respond by destroying the source of the fire.”
Last week the IAF struck artillery controlled by the Assad regime on three separate occasions, in response to stray mortar shells fired from Syria that exploded on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. One of the shells fell 15 km. inside Israeli territory.Reuters and Noam Amir/ Maariv contributed to this report