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Israel may not have been behind last Syria strike

Reliable assessments point to rebel forces as responsible for latest attack near Damascus

Al-Nusra Front fighters standing near the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria. (screen capture: YouTube)
Al-Nusra Front fighters standing near the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria. (screen capture: YouTube)

Doubts were raised Monday as to whether a reported attack north of Damascus overnight was the work of Israeli forces, with some assessments claiming it was Syrian rebels who carried out the assault.

Hebrew media reported unnamed but reliable assessments that suggested Israel was not involved in an attack in the Qalamoun mountains, northeast of Damascus.

According to the Hebrew-language Ynet website, the assault was likely carried out by the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, a jihadist group battling to bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The distancing of Israel from the incident came after Arab news networks al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya attributed to Israel a new attack in Syrian territory early Monday morning, targeting missile launchers held by Hezbollah and forces loyal to Assad.

It was alleged to be the third Israeli strike on the Syrian front in two days.

The reported attack in the Qalamoun mountains — also the location of alleged Israeli sorties against Hezbollah and Assad targets on Saturday — was said to have caused several casualties, though the number of dead and injured was not immediately provided.

On Sunday night an Israeli airstrike targeted and killed a group of Hezbollah fighters who were spotted placing an explosive on the northern border with Syria, army officials said. The IDF said “a group of armed terrorists” were killed in an Israeli airstrike late on Sunday after they were spotted crossing into Israeli territory with an explosive device.

IDF spokesman Col. Peter Lerner said the cell hit Sunday night consisted of four people who were “identified while clearly laying a mine and were shot by an Israeli Air Force aircraft.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four Syrian soldiers were killed by a missile fired from Israeli territory on the Golan Heights.

According to a report in al-Jazeera, the Syrian targets hit by Israel on Saturday were the 155th and 65th divisions of Assad’s army, which are in charge of “strategic weapons,” while the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya reported that the targets were Scud missile depots housed in the military bases.

A Lebanese website quoted a Hezbollah source on Monday that insisted the Scuds were intended for the Syrian conflict, to counter groups such as al-Nusra, rather than for the Israeli front.

The area is known as a Syrian military site that contains weapons depots and installations. There was no official word from Hezbollah or the Syrian government on the alleged attacks.

The northern border has seen a number of flare-ups in recent months, including a Hezbollah attack on an IDF convoy in January that left two soldiers dead.

That attack came in response to a reported Israeli strike on a group of Hezbollah and Iranian operatives in the Syrian Golan.

Before the strike, the group had reportedly been planning to set up a base for attacks against Israel in the area.

Avi Issacharoff and AP contributed to this report.

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