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Wounded IDF soldiers being evacuated Photo: Avishag Shaar Yashuv
Wounded IDF soldiers being evacuated Photo: Avishag Shaar Yashuv
 
 

Syrian army: Repeat of Israeli air strikes could destabilize entire Mideast

1 soldier said killed, 7 hurt in IAF strikes on military targets in Syria in wake of attack on IDF patrol near border that left four IDF troops wounded.

Yoav Zitun, Roi Kais
Latest Update: 03.19.14, 17:58 / Israel News

The Syrian army said Wednesday that a repetition of Israel's pre-dawn strike on its facilities would endanger stability in the entire Middle East, but, embroiled in a three-year civil war, made no threats of retaliation.

 

 

The army said the Israeli airstrikes were a "desperate attempt to escalate and worsen the situation" and divert attention from Damascus' advancements on the battlefront, especially the military's capture last weekend of a key rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border.

 

"Repeating such hostile acts (airstrikes) would endanger the security and stability of the region and make it open to all possibilities," said the Syrian military statement.

 

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Israel Air Force jets struck four army targets in southern Syria, in retaliation for a roadside bomb that hit an IDF patrol and wounded four soldiers - leaving one of them in critical condition.

 

The IDF said the strikes targeted a training camp, an artillery battery and Syrian army headquarters in the Syrian Golan. According to the Syrian army, the IDF struck three posts near the town of Quneitra on the edge of the Israeli Goland Heights. It identified the sites as Kom al-Weiseh, Nabeh al-Fawar and Seasea.

 

One Syrian soldier was killed, and seven others were wounded in the airstrikes, the Syrian army said Wednesday.

 

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists on the ground in Syria, said the IAF targeted several "strategic posts" of the Syrian army near the villages of Kom and Nouriyeh.

 

Al-Arabiya reported that IAF jets attacked the headquarters of the 68th and 90th Divisions of the Syrian army in Quneitra. Syrian opposition sources reported that another military facility near the A'Salam freeway that connects between Damascus and Quneitra.

 

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists on the ground in Syria, said the Israeli air force targeted several "strategic posts" of the Syrian army near the villages of Kom and Nouriyeh.

 

The Syrian army has accused Israel of breaking international law by firing artillery fire at Syrian posts on Tuesday evening and conducting airstrikes against Syrian army targets overnight.

 

"We're warning (Israel) of desperate attempts to bring to an escalation of the situation," the statement said. These "hostile acts" by Israel "endanger the security and stability of the region."

 

Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warned both the Syrians and Hezbollah on Wedesday morning to "stop with all of the nonsense, for their own sake," otherwise the IDF will retaliate with force, no matter where the attack comes from.

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also resolute in comments made on Wednesday. "Our policy is very clear - we hurt only those who hurt us and thwart to the best of our ability the transfer of weapons through land, air and sea," he said.

 

Preventative action, Netanyahu said, has led to a decrease in terror attacks in the past five years, and a decrease in rocket launching and Israeli casualties in the past decade. "But, from time to time, offensive actions are needed to maintain this calm," he noted.

 

The IDF Northern Command also decided Wednesday to reinforce its Golan Heights outposts.

 

On Tuesday afternoon, an explosive device detonated near an IDF patrol jeep traveling along Israel's border fence with Syria in the area south of the Druze village of Majdal Shams. Four IDF soldiers were wounded in the blast, one was in serious condition, the others were in light to moderate condition.

 

Al-Arabiya reported Tuesday that the aim of the attack was to kidnap an Israeli soldier. The device used Tuesday contained thousands of fragments and cells, and in order to rule out a kidnapping attempt, IDF cannons immediately fired heavily to mask the area.

 

The IDF said that Syrian security forces were the ones who enabled and aided the Tuesday attack, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said he holds President Bashar Assad's regime responsible of the attack.

  

The airstrike that happened mere hours after the attack on the Golan border Tuesday, is the first time since the beginning of the Syrian civil war three years ago that Israel admits to an airstrike against Syria. Until now, Israel has only claimed responsibility for cross-border artillery fire.

 

Shortly after Tuesday's attack, IDF tanks fired at Syrian outposts near the border, and Tammuz ultra-long-range missiles hit further outposts.

 

"The IDF reserves the right to operate in whatever way and time it sees fit in order to protect the citizens of Israel," a statement on behalf of the army read Tuesday.

 

"Whoever dares strike us - his blood be on his own head," Ya'alon said. "We hold the Assad regime responsible for what happens in its territory and if it continues to collaborate with terrorists striving to hurt Israel then we will keep on exacting a heavy price from it and make it regret its actions."

 

Following the incident, the Northern Command is expected to intensify its operation procedures along the Syrian border. Army officials estimate that another attempt to harm IDF forces in the vicinity of the border will be carried out and the level of alert in the region will remain high due to fear of escalation.

 

Army officers estimate that those who placed the explosive device chose the area of operation very carefully, while taking advantage of the fact that it is difficult to observe the region due to its mountainous terrain.

 

The force that was attacked Tuesday did not cross the border fence while the explosive device detonated. The IDF will examine whether it would be appropriate in the future to allow soldiers to leave their armored vehicles, in similar cases in which a force identifies suspects on the other side of the border.

 

Gaza-like operational outlook

While the army still does not know who stands behind the Tuesday attack, it is speculated that the culprit is Hezbollah, the terror organization that has become Assad's ally. The assumption remains held since the region in which the attack occurred is under Syrian army control, unlike most of the border fence with Israel, and since the organization is seen as responsible for the last two explosives that were placed in the area.

 

The new Golan Heights Division has recently formulated an operational outlook that is similar in the level of threats and coping with them as the Gaza Division.

 

In recent months, the establishment of a new combat-reconnaissance battalion was completed in the Golan Heights, which should provide a solution to the problematic area in which the explosive was placed, through advanced observation systems and radars that were deployed in the region. These systems have already proven successful in recent weeks with an early detection of the cell that placed an explosive in central Golan. On Tuesday, it seems, the army did not get an advanced warning.

 

Last Friday an improvised explosive device was detonated in the same area, targeting an IDF force near the border with Lebanon as it was patrolling in the Shebaa Farms area. The patrol, which included several reconnaissance vehicles, was hit by the IED, but no casualties were reported.

 

At the time, Ynet's senior national security correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai claimed that it was almost certain that Hezbollah was attempting to fulfill its obligation to avenge and retaliate the bombing of a strategic weapons convoy, which was on its way to reach it some four weeks ago.

 

According to foreign reports, several Hezbollah militants were killed in an alleged Israeli attack in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley at the end of February. A Lebanese security source confirmed that at the time that Israeli warplanes struck targets in the coastal country with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claiming the attack targeted a Hezbollah "missile base."

 

Noam (Dabul) Dvir and the Associated Press contributed to this report. 

 

First Published: 03.19.14, 08:11

 

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