Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

November 12, 2012

Israel drawn into Syria fighting for first time

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel was drawn into the fighting in neighboring Syria for the first time Sunday, firing warning shots across the border after an errant mortar shell landed near an Israeli military installation in the Golan Heights.

While Israel appeared eager to calm the situation, its response was a potent reminder of how easily the Syrian civil war — already spilling across borders with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — could explode into a wider regional conflagration.

Israeli officials threatened even tougher retaliation if attacks persist.

They have feared that the instability in Syria over the past 19 months could spill across the border into Israel, particularly as President Bashar Assad's grip on power grows increasingly precarious.

Israel has little love for Assad, who has provided refuge and support to Israel's bitterest enemies through the years. But the Syrian leader — and his father before him — have kept the frontier quiet for nearly four decades, providing a rare source of stability in the volatile region.

The Israeli military said the mortar fire caused no injuries or damage at the post in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and then annexed.

In recent weeks, incidents of errant fire from Syria have multiplied, leading Israel to warn that it holds Syria responsible. Israeli officials believe most of the fire has come from Syrian government forces, although they think it has been inadvertent and not been aimed at Israel.

After responding to Sunday's mortar strike, the Israeli military moved quickly to defuse tensions.

"We understand this was a mistake and was not meant to target Israel, and then that is why we fired a warning shot in retaliation," said Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a military spokeswoman. Defense officials said an anti-tank missile was fired, and there were no reports of casualties in Syria.

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