President Bashar Assad's army has regained control of the Quneitra crossing, the only border crossing between Israel and Syria, which was seized by rebel forces for the first time earlier Thursday. Heavy clashes were raging in the area between the opposition and Assad's forces.
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Israel is worried that the Golan, which it captured from Syria in 1967, will become a springboard for attacks on Israelis by jihadi fighters, who are taking part in the armed struggle against Assad.
Before the Syrian army retook the crossing, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdelrahman said: "The rebels have seized the crossing near the old city of Quneitra in the occupied Golan Heights. There are heavy explosions and fierce clashing ongoing in the area."
Quneitra Crossing, Thursday morning (Photo: Yoav Zitun)
The Syrian side of the crossing is located just 70 meters (about 230 feet) from an IDF position.
The dramatic development in the civil war came just a day after the Syrian army forced rebels to withdraw from the strategic town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border. The army called the town's capture a victory that sent a clear message to the "Zionist enemy."
Fierce battles have been raging between rebels and army forces in "Old Quneitra," the only Syrian city situated near the border with Israel. Explosions were heard in the Golan Heights area on Thursday morning.
The Philippine military said a Filipino peacekeeper was wounded in the Golan Heights during the fighting
Armed forces spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the soldier suffered a leg wound from an artillery or mortar shell that landed Thursday at Camp Ziouni, which serves as a logistics base for the UN Disengagement Observer Force.
He said the soldier, one of more than 300 Filipino peacekeepers, is in stable condition.
Battles near Quneitra (Photo: Gili Sivan)
Earlier Thursday, opposition sources confirmed that rebel forces seized control of the Quneitra Crossing and caused heavy losses to forces loyal to Assad. The rebels also managed to destroy four Syrian army tanks, the sources said.
The IDF has instructed farmers working near the border to keep away from the Quneitra area.
Syrian soldier in Qusair, Wednesday (Photo: Reuters)
Meanwhile, reports in Lebanon said 12 rockets exploded in the city of Baalbek, which is considered a stronghold of Hezbollah. The rocket attack may have been launched by Syrian rebel forces as retaliation for the Shiite group's role in Wednesday's capture of Qusair. Thousands of Hezbollah fighters fought alongside Assad's forces against the rebels in the border town, which was recaptured after weeks of intense battles.
"The victory that was achieved at the hands of our brave soldiers sends a clear message to all those who are involved in the aggression against Syria, on top being the Zionist enemy and its agents in the region and tools on the ground," said a statement carried by Syrian state television after the army retook Qusair.
The Qusair region is crucial in that it connects Damascus with Syria’s Mediterranean coast, the homeland of the country’s minority Alawite population. Assad must keep the route between Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon to the coast open. Opposition sources have claimed that the coastal area may serve as a "refuge Alawite state" in case Assad is overthrown in Damascus and Syria will dissolve into separate ethnic and religious sects.
Also on Thursday, CNN quoted a Pentagon official as saying US intelligence agencies have identified three Russian amphibious warships in the eastern Mediterranean that are believed to be carrying weapons shipments that might be used to resupply the Syrian regime.
Although it's not confirmed, it's believed the ships may be carrying some components of the controversial Russian S-300 air defense missile system and other weapons for the regime, the report said.
Roi Kais, Maor Buchnik and Yoav Zitun contributed to the report
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