Israel Fires Warning Shot Into Syria
Fallout from the Syrian civil war continues to be felt across the region and has now engulfed Israel.
Israeli forces in the Golan Heights fired into Syria on Sunday after a stray mortar round from fighting between Syrian troops and rebels hit an army post, the Israeli military said, calling the response a “warning.”
The incident was said to be the first time Israel had fired across the Golan frontier into Syria since the 1973 Middle East war, and it underlined concerns that Syria’s civil war could draw in neighboring countries and trigger wider conflict in the region.
An Israeli army statement said that after the mortar round landed Sunday, causing no casualties or damage, troops fired “warning shots towards Syrian areas.” The statement gave no details on the munitions used, but military officials later said a long-range guided anti-tank missile had been fired in the vicinity of a Syrian mortar battery thought to have fired the shell.
Army Radio quoted the chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, as saying that the Israeli fire was meant to send “a clear message to the Syrian army that Israel will not accept continued fire in its direction . . . even if it is not deliberate.”
Israel is not on hair trigger alert, but their response indicates it wouldn't take much to initiate hostilities.
Meanwhile, the Syrian air force bombed a border town uncomfortably close to Turkey:
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad bombarded the Ras al-Ain area on the border with Turkey on Sunday, days after the town fell to rebels during an advance that has sent thousands of refugees fleeing for safety.
Helicopters circled above the town and opposition activists said they had strafed targets near the village of Tal Halaf.
The Arab and Kurdish town of Ras al-Ain fell to the Free Syrian Army on Thursday in fighting that sent 9,000 fleeing in a 24-hour period, one of a largest refugee influxes into Turkey of the 19-month civil war.
Tank rounds slammed into the western part of the town on Sunday and a Reuters reporter on the Turkish side of the border saw black smoke rising over the area.
Rebels and forces loyal to Assad exchanged artillery fire and some rounds appeared to land just inside Turkey.
"It's a disaster over there," a man shouted to reporters as he crossed into the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar. Ambulances with sirens wailing ferried wounded people from the Turkish side of the border for treatment at a local clinic.
With winter setting in, over 120,000 Syrians are now sheltering in Turkish camps, deepening alarm in Ankara.
Turkey has already beefed up security on its southeastern border with Syria, in an area of the country where it is also fighting an emboldened insurgency by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Fallout from the conflict was also felt in Lebanon:
Two men were killed, and three others wounded, one a Hezbollah official, during clashes in the Taamir Ain al-Hilweh neighborhood on the outskirts of Sidon Sunday.
The Hezbollah official was identified as Zeid Daher.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati asked the interior minister to call for an emergency meeting of Sidon’s Central Security Council, a statement by Mikati’s office said.
Mikati also asked the Lebanese Army command to take the necessary measures to control the situation and arrest those involved in the incident.
“I am not against Shiite, I am against Hezbollah because it supports the Syrian regime and because it killed Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan,” Assir told The Daily Star earlier Sunday.
The longer the Syrian civil war goes on, the better the chance that one or more states will be sucked into its vortex. Lebanon is closer to civil war -- largely over Hezbollah's support for Assad -- than at any time in years. The refugees are causing political problems for Turkey and Jordan. And now Israel, already nervous about what follows the fall of Assad, finds itself staring across the Golan wondering if Assad will start a war deliberately to reunite his fractured people.
A small ray of hope occurred in Doha when the Syrian opposition formed a new organization more representative of the factions on the ground. Replacing the defunct Syrian National Council is the awkward sounding National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. But it will take them several months to get organized and in the meantime, Syria bleeds and its neighbors pray they can keep the wolf from their doors.