Stray round from Syria triggers return fire from Israel

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JERUSALEM -- Israeli forces in the Golan Heights fired into Syria on Sunday after a stray mortar round from fighting between Syrian troops and rebels hit an army post, the Israeli military said, calling the response a "warning."

The incident was said to be the first time Israel had fired across the Golan frontier into Syria since the 1973 Middle East War, and it underlined concerns that Syria's civil war could draw in neighboring countries and trigger wider conflict in the region.

Israel captured the Golan, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed the area in 1981. The cease-fire line there has been quiet for decades, but Israeli officials have voiced concerns that the upheaval in Syria could spill over the frontier.

An Israeli army statement said that after the mortar round landed Sunday, causing no casualties or damage, troops fired "warning shots towards Syrian areas." The statement gave no details on the munitions used, but military officials later said a long-range anti-tank missile had been fired in the vicinity of a Syrian mortar battery thought to have fired the shell.

Army Radio quoted the chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, as saying that the Israeli fire was meant to send "a clear message to the Syrian army that Israel will not accept continued fire in its direction ... even if it is not deliberate."

The army said it had a filed a complaint through United Nations forces stationed between Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan conveying a warning that continued fire from Syrian territory "will not be tolerated and shall be responded to with severity."

There have been several incidents this month in which stray munitions from the fighting in Syria have reached the Israeli-held Golan Heights, causing no casualties or damage.

As tensions rose on the northern front Sunday, there were fresh rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip on communities in southern Israel. The flare-up in the south was triggered Saturday when anti-tank missile fired from the Gaza Strip hit an Israeli patrol jeep, wounding four soldiers, and Israeli shelling in response killed four Palestinians and wounded about two dozen more.

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