'Syrian villages on Israel border in rebel hands'

Defense minister, PM tour the Syrian border; 'Telegraph' reports Syrian rebels take control of towns in demilitarized area.

Barak Netanyahu at Syrian border 370 (photo credit: Ariel Harmoni / Defense Ministry)
Barak Netanyahu at Syrian border 370
(photo credit: Ariel Harmoni / Defense Ministry)
Nearly all of the Syrian villages along the border with Israel are in rebel hands, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday, during a tour of the Golan Heights region with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The Daily Telegraph reported late on Tuesday that Syrian rebels have seized control over two towns in the buffer zone with Israel.
According to the report, which cites an Israeli military intelligence source from the Northern Command, 200 or more rebels took control of Be’er Ajam and Bariqa.
The Syrian military is becoming less efficient, Barak said.
Barak praised the IDF and said it was closely monitoring "the painful crumbling of the Assad regime."
He added that the IDF's northern Command is ensuring that Syrian fire isn't directed over the border into Israel, "while making more wide-scale preparations for all developments."
"It's very difficult to estimate what will be in Syria in the future, and we need to be alert and ready here, like in other areas," the defense minister said.
The prime minister added that "We are determined to defend our land and our borders. We made that clear to the other side."
Earlier in the month, the Syrian military caused a stir when three of its tanks entered Be’er Ajam, prompting Israel to raise its alert levels and complain to the United Nations.
"The rebels are employing a clear tactic of drawing the regime forces to fight in these demilitarized areas because of the limitations on the Syrian armed forces," the Telegraph quoted the Israeli source as saying. "Rebels have seized control of the area north of Quneitra and the area to its south. If they are brave they will try to make a swift move to cut off Quneitra city and cut off the road to Damascus. We cannot rule that out as a next step."
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According to the Telegraph, the fighters include al-Qaida militants from Iraq.
"We are used to a Cold War situation between Israel and Syria but what we are seeing along the border now is a situation similar to that of Lebanon or Sinai, where a weak sovereign state is failing to exert its control over an area that different rebel groups can use to attack Israel," the paper quoted a source as saying.
The report came after Israel fired at and struck two Syrian mortar launchers on Monday, following the second time in as many days that Syrian artillery shells exploded in Israeli territory.
A tank from the 401 Armored Brigade fired at the Syrian targets in what was an escalated Israeli retaliation to Syrian fire. Unlike Sunday’s exchange, the IDF fired with the intention of hitting its target, as part of a new policy designed to deter Syrian forces from firing into Israel.
There were conflicting reports on whether Syrian soldiers were injured in the aftermath. IDF sources said there were no known injuries, though a Channel 2 report claimed that a number of soldiers in Syria were hurt, and broadcast video of a Syrian ambulance sent to evacuate the soldiers.
The IDF does not believe that Monday’s shell was deliberate, but intensified its response nonetheless in order to send the message to Damascus that the errant shells must stop.