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IDF reopens restive border area on Golan Heights to civilians

Region around Quneitra had been declared off-limits as stray fire incidents stoked tensions with Syria

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the border shows smoke rising near the Israeli-Syrian border on the Golan Heights during fights between the rebels and the Syrian army inside Syria, June 25, 2017. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
A picture taken from the Israeli side of the border shows smoke rising near the Israeli-Syrian border on the Golan Heights during fights between the rebels and the Syrian army inside Syria, June 25, 2017. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The Israeli military on Wednesday reopened a border-adjacent area in the Golan Heights to civilian access, two days after it was declared off-limits amid a series of incidents of errant Syrian fire hitting Israeli territory.

The IDF had declared several “crowd gathering points” in the area of Quneitra as closed military zones on Monday. Farmers were allowed in to work in their fields, though they were barred from coming near the border fence itself.

In the three days prior to the ban there were three incidents of errant fire hitting Israel. The IDF responded with force, targeting Syrian army installations, which Israel holds responsible for all incidents originating from the civil-war-torn country.

Defense Minister Avidgor Liberman said Monday that Israel has “no intention of launching a military operation” against Syria or rebel groups operating within it even as tensions spiraled.

Speaking at the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs committee, Liberman rejected predictions made by some in Israel’s political echelon that the next conflict with either Hezbollah in the north or Hamas in the south is just around the corner.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Israeli-Syrian border shows smoke rising near the border in the Golan Heights, during fights between rebels and the Syrian army on June 25, 2017. (Basel Awidat/ Flash90)
A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Israeli-Syrian border shows smoke rising near the border in the Golan Heights, during fights between rebels and the Syrian army on June 25, 2017. (Basel Awidat/ Flash90)

Around 10 mortar shells from Syria struck the Golan Heights on Saturday, prompting an Israeli response that reportedly killed two Syrian soldiers.

On Sunday, several more projectiles hit Israel in what the army said was spillover fire from fighting between regime forces and rebels. The IDF again responded, confirming it targeted a Syrian military vehicle. Arabic media reports said five people were injured in the Israeli raid.

An Israeli tourist looks at the Syrian side of the border from Mount Bental, in the Golan Heights, on June 25, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)
An Israeli tourist looks at the Syrian side of the border from Mount Bental, in the Golan Heights, on June 25, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)

Earlier Monday the IDF said that stray fire from Syria reportedly hit a United Nations peacekeeping position in the Golan Heights. No injuries were reported. The army launched searches following reports that two mortars had landed on the Israeli side of the frontier, but no signs of shelling were found. Instead, “heavy machine gun bullet holes were identified in a UNDOF post near Zivanit, adjacent to the border,” the army said.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force monitors a 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights.

Syria responded Sunday to Israel’s strikes with its own warnings

“The General Command warned against the risks posed by such hostile acts and holds the Israeli enemy responsible for the serious repercussions if such acts reoccur under any pretext, affirming determination to crush terrorist groups which are the Israeli enemy’s proxy in the area,” Syria’s military said in a statement.

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