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IDF strikes Syrian army targets near border after munitions fired at Israel

Syrian state media says 2 lightly injured; Israeli army says it hit observation posts, intel-gathering tools; strikes come after blasts at border sent shrapnel into Israeli town

Illustrative: An Israeli Apache helicopter flies  during an aerial show at a graduation ceremony for soldiers who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 29, 2016.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative: An Israeli Apache helicopter flies during an aerial show at a graduation ceremony for soldiers who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 29, 2016.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israeli attack helicopters on Friday night struck several military targets in southern Syria belonging to the Syrian military, in response to munitions fired at Israel earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Targets included “observation positions and intelligence-gathering tools inside Syrian posts,” the military said.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the strikes injured two soldiers, hit three sites and caused fires.

Arabic media reports said missiles had hit anti-aircraft batteries near Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights.

The incident in the morning saw explosions heard along the border and shrapnel striking a home and a car on the Israeli side in the Druze town of Majdal Shams, causing light damage. The cause was reported to be either anti-aircraft fire toward an IDF observation balloon or an artillery shell fired from Syria toward Israel, possibly by accident.

“The IDF holds the Syrian regime responsible for the fire against Israel earlier today,” the army said in a statement. “The IDF will continue operating with determination and will respond to any violation of Israeli sovereignty.”

The incidents came amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Hezbollah terror group, which maintains a presence in the Syrian Golan Heights, after one of the organization’s fighters was killed in an airstrike attributed to Israel on Monday night.

The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, made an unannounced visit to Israel on Friday, meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Mossad director Yossi Cohen, along with other top brass. Israeli television commentators speculated on the possible significance of the visit, particularly regarding the threat posed by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

The IDF further stepped up its defenses along the country’s northern borders on Friday, the army said, out of concern the Hezbollah terror group may carry out an attack against military targets along the frontier in retaliation and warned Beirut it would bear responsibility for any possible Hezbollah strike.

“In light of a situational assessment in the IDF and in accordance with the Northern Command’s defense plan, the IDF’s deployment will change in both the military and civilian arena with the goal of strengthening defenses along the northern border,” the IDF said in a statement.

In the past, Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate to losses of its soldiers in Syria with attacks on Israel. This was the case in September, when the terror group fired three anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli military targets along the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF armored ambulance with five soldiers inside, after the IDF killed two of its fighters in Syria the month before.

In a tacit threat, the IDF preemptively warned Beirut that it sees the state of Lebanon as “responsible for all actions emanating from Lebanon.”

Israel Defense Forces soldiers stationed along the border with Lebanon on July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

Beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday night, roadblocks were installed along a number of highways to prevent military vehicles vulnerable to attack from anti-tank guided missiles fired from either Lebanon or Syria, from driving on certain roads.

Entrances to some communities where the military maintains a presence that are exposed to attack were also blocked for IDF vehicles. As the military assessed that Hezbollah planned to attack only IDF targets, civilian vehicles will be able to travel freely throughout the area.

However, the IDF said that some farmers who have fields directly along the border may be blocked from working their lands.

The military also cleared some troops out of positions directly along the border, moving them deeper into Israel, so that they would not represent a clear target for Hezbollah, while still allowing them to defend the frontier.

The IDF has also stepped up its intelligence collection efforts along the border in recent days. Throughout the day on Friday, Lebanese media reported on large numbers of Israeli drones flying overhead.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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