Syrian jets bomb rebels close to Golan Heights

Israeli authorities ask curiosity seekers to stay away from area of clashes over strategic border crossing

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Syrian air force jets pounded rebel positions on Thursday near a border crossing with Israel that was seized by anti-government fighters the previous day and local authorities warned tourists and sightseers to stay away from the area.

According to a Reuters report, local residents and fighters at the scene said the Islamist Nusra Front and other rebel groups were “holding ground” despite the heavy attacks.

A video posted to the Internet and filmed from the Syrian side of the border crossing clearly showed the Israeli checkpoint, with its flag, just dozens of meters away. The clip appeared to be filmed near a UN monitoring position between the Israeli and Syrian border gates, which are separated by a couple of hundred meters of no-man’s land.

A UN Disengagement Observer Force spokesperson said Fijian troops were manning the site.

A voice off-camera can be heard saying in Arabic “Quneitra crossing, with the Israeli occupation army, has been liberated today by the Free Syrian Army.”

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, a British-based NGO, said 20 Syrian troops as well as 14 anti-government fighters were killed in the recent fighting for control of the area.

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The Golan Regional Council issued a warning Thursday asking civilians, including farmers and tourists, to stay away from the border area for fear of injuries from stray fire coming across the border, Channel 10 reported.

An Israeli officer was moderately wounded by spillover fire from the conflict. He was evacuated to a hospital in stable condition. The Israeli army responded with artillery fire. Later in the day an Israeli civilian was lightly injured by a mortar bomb.

At least seven mortars from the fighting landed on the Israeli side of the border.

Despite the warnings, sightseers were drawn to the Golan Heights region near the crossing, which offers a grandstand view of the fighting in Syria.

An Israeli woman looks on as smoke rises near the Quneitra Crossing as seen from the Israeli Golan Heights August 27, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
An Israeli woman looks on as smoke rises near the Quneitra Crossing as seen from the Israeli Golan Heights August 27, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Syrian rebels, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, seized control of the Syrian crossing with the 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.

The Syrian opposition groups themselves later announced the “liberation” of the Quneitra border crossing with Israel.

In June 2013 rebels briefly seized control of the border crossing but it was recaptured by forces loyal to Assad.

Southern Syria has seen an increased presence of Al-Nusra Front fighters who were driven out of the eastern Deir al-Zor province by the Islamic State, which has seized large swaths of Syria and Iraq for a self-declared Islamic caliphate.

The Quneitra crossing is chiefly used by UN peacekeepers and is only occasionally utilized for civilian purposes like the transfer of goods, students and brides.

The city of Quneitra was largely destroyed during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and was never rebuilt.

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