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19 Mar, 2014 11:14

Israel airstrike on Golan Heights leaves 1 dead, 7 wounded - Syrian army

Retaliatory air strikes carried out by Israel against Syrian army positions killed one person and injured seven, according to Syria's armed forces said. The strike came just hours after four IDF soldiers were wounded by a bomb attack in the Golan Heights.

A Syrian armed forces statement said the strikes targeted three sites near the ruined city of Quneitra in southwestern Syria, including an army training facility, a military headquarters and artillery batteries. Damascus warned the strikes could further destabilize the already strife-torn region.

The statement also warns Israel against escalating the situation by repeating such "hostile acts." It says they "endanger the security and stability of the region."

Israeli Military sources confirmed that the Israeli Air Force had carried out four strikes at around 3:00 am local time, AFP reports.

"The [IOF] targeted several Syrian army positions which aided and abetted the attack against [IOF] personnel yesterday," a military statement said, with a spokeswoman confirming the bombing raids included targets on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights plateau.

Soldiers from the Israeli Army Artillery battery unit are deployed on alert near the border with Syria on March 19, 2014, in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. (AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana)

The air raids took place 12 hours after four Israeli soldiers were wounded by a roadside bomb – one of them seriously – while patrolling along the ceasefire line in the occupied Golan. It was the third such incident in a fortnight along Israel's northern frontier. Israeli brass has regularly blamed the Syrian military for being complicit in such attacks.

On top of the airstrikes, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that if he persisted in a course of action that caused harm to Israel, he would "regret his actions."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed on Wednesday the Israeli Air Force strikes overnight of Syrian military positions were in retaliation for an attack on Israeli soldiers.

“Last night, the IDF attacked targets in Syrian territory. These were targets of Syrian elements that not only facilitated, but also cooperated with, the attacks on our forces. Our policy is very clear: We attack those who attack us,” the Israeli PM said at the start of a weekly government cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu said that such actions coupled with aggressive efforts to intercept weapons shipments into the area had contributed to the lowest level of terrorism “in a decade.”

He further said Israel would continue with it retaliatory policy to ensure the Jewish State’s Security.

“From time to time we must take vigorous action, as we are now doing, so that this quiet may continue,” he said. “This vigorous policy is what is responsible for maintaining Israel’s security and that of its citizens. Relative to the Middle East as a whole, which is undergoing profound turmoil, Israel is the most stable and secure place in the entire region.”

Syria earlier said the air raids were intended “boost the morale of the terrorist gangs that are falling apart under the blows of the army."

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On Friday, Israel shelled a Hezbollah target inside eastern Lebanon in response to a blast targeting its troops along the border. In a separate attack on 5 March, Israel said it hit two Hezbollah members while a group of operatives were reportedly trying to plant a bomb near the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire line.

"This aggression won’t stand without a response,” the Jerusalem Post cites the group as saying in a statement.

Wednesday’s air strikes represent the most serious escalation along the ceasefire line with Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israel first captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 war. The country agreed to return the land to Syria in return for a peace agreement that was rejected by the Arab world.

In 1973, Syrian forces crossed the ceasefire line into the Golan Heights in an attempt to retake the territory. Syria's troops were repelled by Israeli forces.

Israel annexed the Golan in 1981, though they returned about 5 percent of the territory to Syria. The land was merged into a demilitarized zone which has been the scene of periodic attacks over the past several decades.

UN peacekeeping forces, which have been in the Golan Heights since 1974, have also found themselves the targets of militants operating in the region. In March and May last year, Syrian rebels abducted UN peacekeepers monitoring the ceasefire line.