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‘Syrian air force strikes rebels near Quneitra’

Jets careful not to enter the demilitarized zone, al-Jazeera reports; Nusra Front reportedly makes gains near crossing with Israel

Illustrative: Smoke rises following an explosion in Syria's Quneitra province as Syrian rebels clash with Assad regime forces, seen from the Golan Heights in 2014. (AP/Ariel Schalit, File)
Illustrative: Smoke rises following an explosion in Syria's Quneitra province as Syrian rebels clash with Assad regime forces, seen from the Golan Heights in 2014. (AP/Ariel Schalit, File)

The Syrian air force launched airstrikes Saturday on several targets held by rebel groups on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights near the Quneitra border crossing.

The Syrian planes were careful not to enter the demilitarized zone so as not to provoke an Israeli reaction, al-Jazeera reported.

Rebels from the al-Qaeda affiliated groups the Nusra Front took control of the Quneitra area last week, prompting Israel to raise its military alert levels. Several mortar shells, believed to be strays, have already hit in or near the Israeli side of the Golan.

According to the Saturday report, the airstrikes were to be followed by an expected ground campaign as the Syrian army attempted to cut off the rebels’ supply route from the south.

Meanwhile, operatives from the rebel groups have reportedly made gains in the area, claiming they took control of an army post and a hospital near the crossing.

Last week, Syrian rebels, including the Nusra Front, seized control of the Syrian crossing with the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, taking 45 UN peacekeers hostage while surrounding others.

Over 100 peacekeepers from the Filippino contingent escaped or were led to safety to Israel. Forty-four Fijian soldiers remain in captivity.

Also Saturday, Syria launched a series of airstrikes targeting a stronghold of the Islamic State extremist group on Saturday, killing at least 25 people, most of whom died when one of the missiles slammed into a crowded bakery, activists said.

The eight airstrikes smashed parts of buildings, set cars alight and crushed people under rubble in the northeastern city of Raqqa, which is ruled by the extremist group, according to video of the aftermath uploaded to social media networks.

At least 16 civilians were killed, alongside nine Islamic State fighters, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Most of the civilians were killed after at least one strike hit a bakery on a busy street, and the death toll was likely to rise, said the Observatory, which obtains its information from a network of activists on the ground.

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