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Israel reports 'direct hits' on Syrian target

Associated Press Modified: November 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm •  Published: November 12, 2012
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The incident began when Syrian military units were shelling gunmen in the twin Syrian villages of Bariqa and Bir Ajam, only several hundred meters (yards) from Israeli-held territory. An Associated Press photographer on the Golan side saw gunmen, presumably rebels, running as explosions shook the village from the shelling by Syrian army mobile artillery visible about a mile away (2 kilometers).

The rebels fired back with automatic weapons and then fled, running toward the Golan border and taking refuge under some trees. A few minutes later, the rebels made their way back to the village.

Bursts of artillery fire from the Syrian forces could be heard every few minutes, and about a half-hour later, the Syrian shell struck the Golan, making a loud whistling sound before impact less than 100 meters (yards) from an Israeli position. Israeli forces quickly opened fire, and a plume of smoke billowed from one of the tanks' guns.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based, anti-Assad group that relies on a network of activists on the ground in Syria, confirmed fighting in the area. It said three rebel fighters were killed Monday in clashes with the Syrian army in Bir Ajam.

The state-run news agency SANA has not reported on the fighting in the area or the clash with Israel.

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

Israel fears Assad may stage an attack if he fears his days are numbered. It also worries that Syria's chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah or other anti-Israel militants. There also are concerns that al-Qaida-linked groups battling Assad could turn their focus toward Israel, or sectarian warfare might send refugees streaming into Israel.

The aftermath of Egypt's revolution has provided Israel with reason to worry about its frontier region with Syria: Egypt's Sinai desert on Israel's southern border has turned even more lawless since longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February 2011. Islamic militants have frequently exploited the situation there to attack Israel.

The Golan frictions were a potent reminder of how easily the Syrian civil war could explode into a wider regional conflagration.

Syrian airstrikes on Ras al-Ayn, on the country's northern border, once again raised tensions with Turkey. Regime forces and rebels have been battling for days over the town, which is practically adjacent to the border.

Last week, Syrian rebels overran three security compounds in Ras al-Ayn and took control of the town, located in Syria's predominantly Kurdish, oil-producing northeastern province of al-Hasaka. A surge of 11,000 Syrians escaped into Turkey on Friday following the fighting at Ras al-Ayn.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking to reporters in Rome, said Ankara had formally protested the bombings near the border, saying the attacks were endangering Turkey's security, state-run TRT television reported. He said Turkey had also reported the incident to NATO allies and to the U.N. Security Council.

Davutoglu said the bombings showed that the Syrian regime was attacking its people without making a distinction between "civilians or military units," according to TRT.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Lauren E. Bohn in Jerusalem, Aron Heller in Ashkelon, Israel, Suzan Frazer in Ankara, Turkey, and Mehmet Guzel in Ceylanpinar, Turkey, contributed to this report.