An IDF jeep on patrol near the Syrian border was hit by gunfire on Saturday
The army said the shots were fired from Syria, and that it was
“checking the circumstances surrounding the incident.”
No one was
injured, but the vehicle was lightly damaged.
Meanwhile, rebels seized an
air defense base near Syria’s strategic southern international highway on
Saturday. The advance could bolster opposition fighters trying to secure supply
routes to Damascus.
Syria’s southern provinces bordering Jordan and
Israel have become an increasingly significant battleground as the capital comes
into play, with President Bashar Assad’s forces and his loyalist militias
hitting back hard to prevent rebel advances.
The Britain-based Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of sources across Syria, said
the base commander was among those killed in the two-week battle for the air
defense site in Deraa province bordering Jordan.
“Fighters from the Nusra
Front, Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, and other battalions seized control of the 38th
division air defense base, near the town of Saida on the Damascus-Amman highway,
after 16 days of fierce clashes,” the Observatory said.
The Nusra Front
is an Islamist group suspected of links to al-Qaida and blacklisted by the
United States as a terrorist organization.
Its forces, which include
foreign fighters, have come to increasing prominence in the
Videos published by opposition activists showed cheering fighters
driving tanks around the base and loading boxes of ammunition onto flatbed
trucks. The rebels also said in the videos they had freed dozens of prisoners
held at the base.
A video uploaded by the Observatory showed what it said
was the body of base commander Gen. Mahmoud Darwish lying in a pool of blood in
Other activist videos showed the corpses of soldiers in
camouflage fatigues scattered in the grass outside the base, shot in the
It was not immediately possible to verify the pictures or
The Syrian government has severely restricted access
to Syria for foreign journalists and international aid groups.
has also raged near the border with Israel, which is increasingly concerned
Islamist rebels may be emboldened to end the quiet on the Golan front maintained
by Assad and his father before him during their four decade rule of
Rebels on Wednesday overran at least three towns near the
Israeli-Syrian disengagement line but appeared to lose ground after militias
loyal to Assad pushed them back in a fierce battle.
head of the Observatory, said he recorded one of the heaviest single death tolls
for rebels in the fighting near the Israeli border.
“We have 35 fighters
recorded by name and at least 20 more missing; this is a huge number to be lost
in a single battle and shows how hard they [Assad’s forces] are fighting for
these areas,” Abdelrahman told Reuters.
He said the pro-government
militias involved were made up of fighters from Syria’s Druse minority, a sect
which for some time had stayed on the sidelines of the conflict but now
increasingly appears to be throwing its weight behind Assad.
involvement could increase sectarian bloodshed in Syria, already wracked by
tensions between the Sunni majority that has led the uprising and the Alawite
minority to which Assad belongs.
Tit-for-tat kidnappings and killings
between the sects have become common.
Alawite opposition campaigners,
increasingly concerned for the fate of their community, will meet this weekend
to discuss options for supporting a democratic alternative to Assad’s rule and
try to distance themselves from security forces attempts to crush the revolt.