Israel Targets Syrian Army Position After Cross-Border Fire

Wall Street Journal – by Rory Jones

Israel’s military said Syrian regime forces attempted to down Israeli aircraft as they flew over the war-torn country on Tuesday, after Israel had responded to errant fire across its border by attacking Syrian army positions.

The Syrian army said it had downed an Israeli warplane and a drone after the aircraft had targeted a regime military position in the Quneitra province on the border of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, according to a statement on state news agency SAN’A.  

Israel’s military immediately denied the claim, saying its aircraft had targeted artillery positions in response to errant fire from Syria. Syrian forces attempted and failed to shoot down the aircraft with two surface-to-air missiles during the raid, it added.

“At no point was the safety of [Israeli military] aircraft compromised,” it said.

Neither the Israeli military or Syrian regime immediately responded to questions over the discrepancy between accounts.

The rare standoff is the latest spillover into Israel since Syria’s conflict began in 2011. It came the morning after a cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and Russia took effect across Syria, an attempt to calm ongoing violence and pave the way for a broader peace initiative.

Israel has repeatedly said it holds the Syrian regime responsible for any errant fire that lands in the occupied Golan Heights or Israeli territory. Its military said Monday that a projectile had landed in Golan Heights, but reported no injuries. The errant fire was the fourth such incident in recent weeks, it said.

Under the truce, agreed to on Friday, the U.S. and Russia plan to implement military cooperation and move toward political negotiations once violence has been reduced to levels acceptable to both countries.

Fighting between government forces and rebel groups continued in Quneitra after the cease-fire took effect, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based opposition monitoring group, with dozens of fighters from both sides killed.

Clashes in the province had calmed on Tuesday morning.

Syria’s army accused Israel of supporting “the armed terrorist groups” that are working in the Quneitra province. The Syrian government routinely describes its opponents as terrorists.

Israel has attempted to stay neutral in Syria’s conflict, but has repeatedly responded to fire across its border. Israeli military aircraft also have targeted shipments of weapons to Lebanese political and militant group Hezbollah.

Israel captured the roughly 500-square mile Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The international community considers the land occupied by Israel, a claim Israel rejects.

Israeli officials have recently called for countries to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory.

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