For 2nd time in one day, IDF strikes Syrian positions for spillover mortar fire
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For 2nd time in one day, IDF strikes Syrian positions for spillover mortar fire

After projectiles hit Golan Heights, Israeli aircraft target Assad regime artillery batteries across the northern border

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A photo taken from the Golan Heights shows smoke rising from the Syrian village of Jubata al-Khashab. Israeli aircraft struck Syrian army positions after fire from its war-torn neighbor hit the Golan, September 10, 2016. (AFP/Jalaa Marey)
A photo taken from the Golan Heights shows smoke rising from the Syrian village of Jubata al-Khashab. Israeli aircraft struck Syrian army positions after fire from its war-torn neighbor hit the Golan, September 10, 2016. (AFP/Jalaa Marey)

Israeli war planes stuck Assad regime artillery batteries in southern Syria late on Tuesday night, in response to three projectiles that hit the Golan Heights earlier in the day.

According to Arab media, Syrian anti-aircraft units fired at the Israeli Air Force bombers as they made their attack runs, but scored no direct hits. The IDF would not immediately confirm these reports.

On Tuesday evening, two projectiles fired from Syria landed in the northern Golan Heights, shortly after a first launched from the neighboring country exploded in the same region.

There were no injuries or damage linked to any of the landings Tuesday, the Israeli military said, adding that the incidents were apparently errant fire from the ongoing civil war in Syria.

In a statement, the IDF warned that while it holds the Syrian regime responsible for all errant fire, regardless of the source, it “will not hesitate to act against any opposition forces in Syria.”

The artillery batteries hit in the Israeli airstrikes were located near Qalaat al-Jandal — Jandal Castle, in Arabic — a village in the foothills of the Hermon mountain, according to local media reports.

This was Israel’s second time striking Syrian army positions in less than 24 hours, as shortly after midnight on Tuesday, Israeli aircraft also carried out bombing runs on Syrian artillery batteries near the border, after two projectiles fired from Syria hit the Golan on Monday night.

Illustrative: An Israeli Air Force jet conducts training maneuvers in 2013. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
Illustrative: An Israeli Air Force jet conducts training maneuvers in 2013. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

Following those airstrikes Syrian state media claimed to have downed an Israeli plane and a drone in that reprisal raid — a claim firmly dismissed by Israel.

The civil war in Syria has generated a number of spillover incidents over the years. The IDF frequently retaliates against stray missile strikes inside Israeli territory.

The recent upsurge in incidents stems from the growing success of President Bashar Assad’s forces in recent days, which has forced rebel fighters into areas closer to the Israeli border, Israeli analysts said Tuesday.

“The reality along the Golan has changed over the past few weeks. With his self-confidence and Iranian and Russian assistance, [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is successfully managing to reclaim property and land….and he’s pushing the rebels once again towards the border with Israel and so the shooting now comes as no a surprise,” Col. (res.) Kobi Marom, a Golan Heights resident and former deputy commander of the local Hermon Brigade, told Israel Radio on Tuesday.

Syrian pro-regime fighters walk in a bombed-out street in Ramussa on September 9, 2016, after they took control of the strategically important district on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Aleppo a day earlier. (AFP/ GEORGE OURFALIAN)
Syrian pro-regime fighters walk in a bombed-out street in Ramussa on September 9, 2016, after they took control of the strategically important district on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Aleppo a day earlier. (AFP/ GEORGE OURFALIAN)

The errant fire on Monday and Tuesday came shortly after a ceasefire brokered by Russia and the United States took effect in Syria.

The initial 48-hour truce came into force at 7 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) on Monday across Syria except in areas held by jihadists like the Islamic State group.

As the ceasefire went into effect, Syria’s armed forces immediately announced a seven-day “freeze” on military operations, lasting to midnight next Sunday. But opposition forces had yet to formally sign on and the deal’s fragility was underscored just hours before sundown when Assad vowed to retake the whole country from “terrorists.”

On Saturday, a mortar shell exploded on the Israeli Golan Heights, prompting an Israeli retaliation. A military spokeswoman said the projectile was most likely unintentional “spillover” from the internal fighting in Syria. A short time later, the Israeli Air Force struck artillery targets belonging to the Syrian army, the army said.

Druze watch the bombing between Syrian forces from the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Golan Heights, on June 16, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
Druze watch the bombing between Syrian forces from the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Golan Heights, on June 16, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Hours later, a second mortar shell fired from Syria struck the Golan Heights. The shell exploded on the border, causing no casualties or damage.

Last Thursday, the Israeli Air Force hit a number of rocket launchers belonging to the Syrian army after an projectile struck an open area on the Israeli side of the Golan on Wednesday evening. The shell caused no injuries or damage, after reportedly landing in an open field in Kibbutz Merom Golan.

And on Sunday last week, a mortar round fired from Syria hit an open area on the Israeli side of the Golan demilitarized zone, causing no injuries or damage. In response, the IDF later on Sunday struck Syrian army artillery targets on the plateau.

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