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Israel finds explosives planted on Syrian border; Gantz holds Damascus to blame

Defense minister warns army ready to respond to any incident, won’t ignore bombs uncovered, disarmed in Israeli-controlled buffer zone on southern Golan Heights

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

Defense Minister Benny Gantz seen during a visit on the Israel-Lebanon border, northern Israel, on November 17, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz seen during a visit on the Israel-Lebanon border, northern Israel, on November 17, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday uncovered and disarmed a number of explosive devices that had been planted inside Israeli-controlled territory in the southern Golan Heights, near the Syrian border.

Though Iranian proxies were suspected of being behind the attempted attack, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the military said they held Syria responsible for the incident.

The explosives were planted in a buffer zone along the border where Israel once maintained a clinic for treating Syrian civilians under a humanitarian program known as “Operation Good Neighbor,” which is now used for patrols, indicating that the explosives were meant to be used against soldiers. The area is under Israeli control but on the Syrian side of the security fence, an area just before the United Nations-recognized “Alpha” ceasefire line.

In August, four armed men from an Iranian proxy militia attempted to plant bombs in the same location. Since then, the IDF has stepped up monitoring of the area, the military said.

“For a long time, we have been prepared for the possibility of attacks on the northern frontier,” Gantz said during a security briefing and tour to review combat readiness of forces in area. “The IDF has the capabilities and determination to respond severely to any incident, whether from Lebanon or Syria.”

Addressing the discovering of the mines, he said: “I would like to clearly state: Syria is responsible for what happens from its territory, like this IED [attack], and what happens within its territory, like the smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah. We cannot ignore this issue.”

A bag with explosive devices inside it is seen near the scene where four Syrian suspects were killed Sunday night, after crossing the border and planting bombs, August 3, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

In the incident in August, the army killed the four armed men who crossed into Israeli territory from Syria and planted improvised explosive devices inside an unmanned IDF outpost along the border.

The next day IDF troops scanned the area and found a gun and a backpack with several more bombs ready for use. Those items were found inside Israeli territory, 25 meters from the border, the army said.

Under the 1974 ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria, which ended the previous year’s Yom Kippur War, a demilitarized zone was established between the two countries.

Last month, the IDF completed its premier exercise of the year, a large-scale simulation of war in the north against Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies, and of a smaller conflict in the Gaza Strip.

The northern border has been tense in recent months, following as-yet unfulfilled threats of retaliation by the Hezbollah, after one of the terror group’s fighters was killed in Syria in an airstrike attributed to Israel in July.

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