Errant Artillery Fire From Syria War Hits Golan Heights Again

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JERUSALEM -- Stray mortar rounds and a tank shell fired from Syria landed in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights on Thursday, causing alarm but no injuries or damage.

It was the third time in less than a week that spillover from the Syrian civil war had breached the demilitarized zone or crossed the decades-old armistice line between Israeli and Syrian forces. The United Nations has warned that the violence could jeopardize the cease-fire between the two countries.

The tank shell, which did not explode, fell in Aloney Bashan, an Israeli village near the frontier, and two mortar shells exploded nearby, according to Israeli military officials.

The Israeli military said that the artillery fire had been errant and not directed at Israel.

But touring the Golan Heights on Sunday, the military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, said of the fighting between the Syrian government and rebels, "This is a Syrian issue that could become our issue."

On Monday evening, an Israeli military vehicle traveling near the security fence along the frontier was hit and damaged by bullets that military officials said were most likely from the fighting inside Syria. There were no injuries.

Two days earlier, the United Nations observer force that monitors the cease-fire reported that Syrian armed forces were conducting operations against armed rebels with at least four battle tanks and mortar fire inside the demilitarized buffer zone. Israel lodged a complaint with the United Nations.

Martin Nesirky, spokesman for the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, told reporters in New York on Tuesday that the United Nations force in the area had not yet observed the battle tanks' leaving. The presence of military personnel and the military operations in the area of separation, he said, were "a grave violation of the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian forces" and that it endangered the stability of the region. The United Nations force commander had been liaising with Syrian authorities and the Israeli military, he added, to prevent an escalation of tension.

Israel captured a large portion of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. In the 1973 war, Israeli forces fought off a surprise Syrian assault on the occupied territory, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel. Israel later effectively annexed the area in a move that has not been recognized internationally.

Since then the frontier has remained mostly quiet, if tense, but the infighting in Syria is posing new challenges.

A senior Israeli military official said recently that given the emergence of armed Islamic extremist groups in Syria, Israel had to prepare for the possibility that the armistice line could become "a border of terror like the border with Gaza."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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