Syria fired a mortar shell towards Israel that reportedly landed in the Golan Heights. Israel Radio also claims that Syrian troops fired automatic weapons at Israeli troops. In retaliation, the IDF fired towards a Syrian mortar battery. This was the first time that Israel fired into Syria since the Yom Kippur War. The escalation along the Israeli-Syrian border occurs as Southern Israel has experienced a barrage of rocket fire that originated in Gaza, which puts the IDF in the difficult position of responding to enemy fire along both the southern and northern borders of the State of Israel.

The Syrian-Israeli border has been unusually tense in recent days. This week, Syria fired three mortar shells into Israel. Two of the shells landed near Moshav Alonai Habashan and the second one landed inside the moshav itself, which the Times of Israel reported was the first time that Syrian fire hit an Israeli residential area since the Yom Kippur War. Last week, an Israeli army jeep was hit by Syrian bullets. Israeli authorities have been on high alert since November 3, 2012, when three Syrian tanks strayed into the demilitarized zone that divides the two borders, a blatant act of aggression that caused Israel to file a complaint with UN peacekeepers.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reported to the Jerusalem Post, “After a number of shelling incidents into Israeli territory during recent weeks, I instructed the IDF to respond in-kind should the situation recur. Today, another mortar shell was fired from Syria, landing on an IDF outpost. The Chief of Staff ordered the IDF to return fire on the mortar outpost [from which the mortar was fired]. This was a sign to Syria that we will not tolerate shelling into our territory.” Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai concurred, claiming that “The shooting at us is not coming from the rebels, rather from the Syrian Army, so our message is directed at the Syrian Army. We do not know what effect this message will have but we will follow it and see. This was a warning to the Syrians—-more fire will be met with a real and determined response.

Since March 2011, when the Syrian people began to rise up against the tyranny of the Assad regime, there has been a violent struggle between the Syrian government and rebels seeking to overthrow the government. This uprising has led to a horrific humanitarian disaster, with assassinations, mass rapes, torture, and other human rights abuses becoming the norm. According to the United Nations, by early 2013, four million Syrians will be relying on humanitarian aid for their survival. Already, the Christian Science Monitor reports this conflict has claimed 36,000 lives and displaced over 1.2 million people.

Tommy Steiner, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the IDC Herzliya, told the Times of Israel that the recent escalation along the Syrian-Israeli border is a “reflection of the total disarray” in Syria and such incidents are a preview of “what’s coming soon to a cinema near you!” Nevertheless, IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai emphasized, “The IDF is not interested in interfering in the fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels; rather it seeks to defend Israeli residents of the Golan Heights who may be affected by stray fire.”

Reported by Rachel Avraham for United With Israel

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