Israel launches attack on Syria with air strikes in response to death of Golan Heights teenager

Defence ministry reports ‘direct hits’ on military targets in one of worst cross-border clashes since Syrian conflict began

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The Independent Online

Israel has launched an attack on military targets in Syria, in what it claims was a retaliation for the death of an Israeli teenager near the border on Sunday.

A spokesperson for the Israeli military said that nine assets belonging to President Bashar al-Assad had been bombed, including a regional command centre and “launching positions” for Syria’s own missiles and artillery.

In some of the worst violence to flare up on the Israel-Syria border since the start of the 2011 conflict in the latter, Israel said “direct hits were confirmed”. There were no immediate reports of a counterstrike from Syria.

All of today’s targets were located not far from the site in the occupied Golan Heights were Syrian forces yesterday struck an Israeli civilian vehicle.

A 15-year-old boy, now identified by his family as a bright and well-loved student named Mohammed Qaraqara, was killed in the blast and two others were wounded. Their vehicle was targeted while it was delivering water as part of contract work for the Israeli defence ministry.

There have been a number of cross-border strikes since the Syrian conflict erupted, but Israeli military spokesperson Lt Col Peter Lerner said this one was “clearly intentional”.

“Yesterday's attack was an unprovoked act of aggression against Israel, and a direct continuation to recent attacks that occurred in the area,” he said, adding that the military 2will not tolerate any attempt to breach Israel's sovereignty and will act in order to safeguard the civilians of the state of Israel”.

The sudden burst of violence has added to the tense situation in Israel, where forces have spent the past week and half in a broad ground operation in the West Bank in search of three teenage boys believed to have been abducted by Hamas militants.

Israel has carefully monitored the fighting in Syria, but has generally kept its distance and avoided taking sides. On several occasions, mortar shells and other types of fire have landed on the Israeli side of the de facto border, drawing limited Israeli reprisals. Israel is also thought to have carried out several airstrikes on arms shipments it believed to be headed from Syria to Hezbollah militants in neighbouring Lebanon.

It was not immediately clear whether Syrian troops or one of the many rebel groups battling the government carried out Sunday's deadly attack in the Golan. But Lerner said it was clear that the attack was intentional. Israel has repeatedly said it holds the Syrian government responsible for any attacks emanating from its territory, regardless of who actually carries them out.

Israel captured the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel's annexation of the area has never been recognized internationally.

The incident occurred in the area of Tel Hazeka, near the Quneitra crossing. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops had shelled nearby targets on the Syrian border earlier in the day.

Late Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he spoke to the boy's father and sent his condolences.

“Our enemies don't differentiate between Jews and non-Jews, adults and children,” he told an international gathering of Jewish journalists.

In his address, Netanyahu said in conflicts like Syria, where al-Qa’ida-inspired extremists are battling Iranian-backed Syrian troops, there is no good choice and it is best for Israel to sit back and let its enemies weaken each other.

“This is a fault line between civilization and savagery,” he said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press