Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned Saturday that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad would continue to “suffer the consequences” of any attack on Israel emanating from its territory.
Liberman’s comments came after around 10 mortar shells hit the Israeli Golan Heights in the afternoon, leading to retaliatory Israeli air strikes. The army said the mortar shells appeared to be errant fire from Syrian factions fighting each other across the border.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor which has been reporting on Syria’s six-year-war, said two Syrian soldiers were killed in the Israeli strikes.
It also reported fierce fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels in Quneitra.
Syrian officials confirmed an unspecified number of deaths, saying regime forces had been engaged in fighting with forces of the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front in the region and accusing Israel of attempting to help the insurgents by attacking a “parking lot and a residential building.”
“As part of the Israeli enemy’s continuing support for terrorist organizations, Israeli warplanes attacked services facilities and residential buildings in the surroundings of al-Baath city in Quenitra province at the same time as Jabhat al-Nsura terrorists were attacking the area,” said a statement published by the Syrain government’s SANA news agency.
“A military source said that Army and Armed Forces units, in cooperation with supporting forces, repelled a large attack by groups from Jabhat al-Nusra terror organization in the surroundings of al-Baath city in Quneitra countryside, inflicting heavy losses upon them,” the statement continued. “The source went on to say that while this was happening, the Israeli enemy sought to provide support for al-Nusra, as Israeli warplanes fired rockets from within occupied territory at the Governorate parking lot and a residential building, claiming a number of lives and causing material damage.”
Liberman, meanwhile, stressed Israel had “no intention of accepting challenges to our sovereignty and threats to our security, even if they are caused by ‘spillover'” from Syrian infighting.
“We will respond strongly, resolutely and with level-headedness to any such case,” he said. “As far as we are concerned the Assad regime is responsible for what occurs in its territory and will continue to suffer the consequences if such events recur.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu too, said in a statement that Israel would not accept a “trickle” of projectile fire and would “respond with force to any firing into our territory.”
Around 10 mortar impacts were identified in Israeli territory, around the Quneitra area, in the afternoon’s incident. There was no damage and no injuries were reported in the mortar attack.
The military said it had taken the precautionary step of asking civilians to avoid gathering near the border with Syria following the attack.
The army retaliated with several air strikes on Syrian regime positions, in what has become the standard response in such cases.
The army said it struck two tanks and a post from which the mortars were fired. Israel also lodged a formal complaint with the UN over the incident.
Footage released by the IDF showed the three targets being hit.
The military said it “will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli sovereignty and the security of its citizens” and held the Assad regime responsible for all attacks launched from Syrian territory.
Israel has largely stayed out of the Syrian civil war, which broke out in March 2011, but has over the years acknowledged that it helps treat wounded Syrians who arrive at its border, and provides some of them with humanitarian assistance. It has also claimed a number of airstrikes in Syria it says were meant to prevent arch-foe Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weaponry from Iran via Damascus.
AFP contributed to this report.