IDF again fires at Syrian forces in Golan demilitarized zone

For second time in two days, Israeli tank fires a warning shot at Assad troops fortifying positions along the Israel-Syria cease-fire line

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Israeli soldiers take part in a mobile artillery exercise near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights on November 19, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)
Israeli soldiers take part in a mobile artillery exercise near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights on November 19, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)

For the second time in two days, an IDF tank on Sunday fired a warning shot at Syrian forces operating in the demilitarized zone between the two countries, the army said.

The shelling comes amid increased tensions as Israeli officials scramble to get better conditions in a ceasefire agreement for southern Syria, specifically to keep Shiite militias and other supporters of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad away from the border.

In a statement, the Israeli military said the warning shot came because Syrian forces were constructing a fortified position in the demilitarized zone that runs along the border, in violation of the 1974 truce agreement between Israel and Syria.

The agreement “prohibits the entry of heavy construction tools or military vehicles into the demilitarized zone,” the army said.

“In response, the IDF fired a warning shot towards the area using a tank.” A similar warning shot was fired Saturday.

There were no immediate reports of casualties on the Syrian side.

After Saturday’s incident, the army filed a complaint with the United Nations peacekeeper force stationed on the Golan.

An army spokesperson said it had not filed a second complaint for Sunday’s alleged violation.

Saturday’s shelling occurred near the Druze town of Hader on the Syrian side. The town was the site of a suicide bombing earlier in the month that killed nine Syrian Druze and then sparked clashes between Syrian government forces and rebels.

That incident led to an unusual move from Israel, which said it would defend the Druze population of the village.

In a series of tweets, the army’s Arabic spokesman Avichay Adraee said the IDF was prepared to “support the village residents and work to prevent any harm or the occupation of the village, out of a commitment to the Druze population.”

Druze men in the Israeli Golan Heights congregate near the Syrian border, waving their community’s flag, after they heard about a suicide bombing in the Syrian Druze village of Hadar, on November 3, 2017. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

After the incident, dozens of Druze residents of Israel protested at the Syrian border against the escalating violence in Hader.

The IDF’s announcement that it would protect Hader, which lies inside Syria, constituted a very rare example of a public intervention in the Syrian civil war raging across the border.

The statement reflected ongoing pressure on Israeli leaders from the Druze communities in the Galilee and on the Golan to help their coreligionists across the border who are often caught in the crossfire between Sunni rebels and Alawite and Shiite pro-government forces.

Over the past six years, Israel has clung to a hands-off policy toward the war, only getting involved when one of its “red lines” is transgressed. These “red lines” include the violation of Israeli sovereignty through deliberate or accidental attacks, Iranian-supported militias taking positions on the Golan border, and attempts to transfer advanced weapons to the Hezbollah terrorist group.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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