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Syria, Israel exchange fire over border

  • Article by: ALBERT AJI
  • Associated Press
  • May 21, 2013 - 5:31 AM

DAMASCUS, Syria - Syria said Tuesday it destroyed an Israeli vehicle that crossed the ceasefire line in the Golan Heights overnight, while the Israeli military said gunfire from Syria had hit an Israeli patrol, damaging a vehicle and prompting its troops to fire back.

The two sides appeared to be referring to the same incident.

Sporadic fire from Syria's civil war has occasionally hit the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured in the 1967 war. Israel assumes most of the incidents are accidental fire but its forces have responded on several occasions.

Tuesday's incident, however, marked the first time that the Syrian army has acknowledged firing at Israeli troops across the frontier, and appeared to be an attempt by President Bashar Assad's regime to project toughness following three Israeli airstrikes near Damascus this year.

The strikes, which targeted alleged Syrian arms shipments bound for the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group, marked a sharp escalation of Israel's involvement in the Syrian civil war. They also raised fears that a conflict that has repeatedly spilled over Syria's borders could turn into a full-fledged regional war.

Syria vowed to retaliate and Assad said Syria is "capable of facing Israel" and would not accept violations of its sovereignty. Firing at an Israeli target seems to be in line with the tougher rhetoric that followed the airstrikes.

A statement issued Tuesday by the Syrian Armed Forces said its troops destroyed the Israeli vehicle along "with those in it." It said Israel later fired two missiles towards one of the Syrian positions in the village of Zobaydiya village, causing no casualties.

The village is located inside the Syrian controlled Golan and the state-run SANA news agency said rebels were operating in the area. The border zone has seen repeated breaches during Syria's two-year civil war as rebels took control over some villages near the ceasefire line.

The army statement carried by SANA said any attempt to infiltrate Syria's sovereignty will face "immediate and firm retaliation. "

Earlier Tuesday, Israel's military said gunfire from Syria had hit an Israeli patrol on the Golan Heights overnight, damaging a vehicle and prompting the troops to fire back.

It said that the Israeli troops reported a "direct hit" from the return fire but provided no further details.

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Associated Press writer Aron Heller contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

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