IDF officer injured as Islamist rebels seize Syria-Israel crossing

IDF officer injured as Islamist rebels seize Syria-Israel crossing

Army hits Syrian targets after soldier is hurt as salvo of mortars hits the Golan

Smoke from Syrian fighting seen on the Israel-Syria border in the Golan Heights on August 27, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
Smoke from Syrian fighting seen on the Israel-Syria border in the Golan Heights on August 27, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

An Israeli officer in the Golan Heights was moderately injured by apparent stray fire from fighting in Syria Wednesday morning, as an al-Qaeda linked rebel group took control of the only crossing between Israel and Syria.

The officer sustained wounds to the chest. The army was not immediately able to establish whether the injury was due to a bullet or shrapnel. The officer was evacuated by helicopter to the Rambam hospital in Haifa.

At least six mortars fired from Syria landed in the Golan Heights over the course of the day as rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad fought for control of the Quneitra crossing, near Israel’s northeastern border.

The IDF said it had not completely determined whether the mortars were fired into Israel intentionally or were a spillover from fighting between rival factions on the Syrian side of the border.

The mortars also caused damage to a car, according to Israeli news source Ynet.

In response to the spillover, Israeli forces hit two Syrian army positions, the IDF said.

Syrian rebels, including the al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front, seized control of the Syrian crossing with the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights on Wednesday, a monitoring group said.

“Al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups took the Quneitra crossing, and heavy fighting with the Syrian army is continuing in the surrounding area,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based NGO.

The Syrian opposition groups themselves later announced the “liberation” of the Quneitra border crossing with Israel. In a document uploaded to Twitter, the rebel groups added that after a series of battles, they managed to take control of the al-Rawadi checkpoint, also near the border.

The document, signed by the Southern Front of the Quneitra Military Council, also names the groups involved in the fighting. The groups, including the Al-Nusra Front, were said to have joined forces, at least temporarily, in order to conquer the crossing.

Earlier in the morning, Israeli farmers in the northern territory were told to stay away from their lands near the border as heavy fighting raged for the crossing point near the city of Quneitra.

Tourist sites in the area were also closed as Israeli officials sought to keep civilians far from the fighting, Israel Radio reported.

As a result of the fighting on the Syrian side of the plateau, the level of alert was raised on the Israeli side, an army spokesperson said, without confirming that it had been increased to the highest level.

Spillovers of violence from Syria and even intentional attacks by militants and Syrian forces are not unheard of in the region.

On Sunday, five rockets were fired from Syria into Israel.

Last month a rocket from Syria prompted Israeli artillery to shell Syrian army positions.

In June Israeli warplanes attacked Syrian military headquarters and positions after an Israeli teenager was killed in a cross-border attack by forces loyal to the Assad regime.

In March, four Israeli troops were wounded when their patrol jeep apparently ran over a bomb placed by Hezbollah fighters near the Israel-Syria border.

AFP contributed to this report.

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