BEIRUT: Israel launched an attack on Syria Thursday in response to rocket fire which landed near the border with Lebanon.
Syrian state TV quoted a military source as saying that “several missiles” had targeted a transportation center and a public building in the Qunaitra area of the Syrian Golan Heights, adding that only material damage was inflicted.
Rebel sources in Syria, however, said the strikes hit some of Damascus’ military facilities on the Golan. A monitor initially reported casualties but did not elaborate.
Israel’s army said the strikes were a response to cross-border rocket fire from Syria. It had earlier been reported that the rockets had been fired from Lebanon.
It had earlier warned the government in war-wracked Syria would “suffer the consequences” after four rockets crashed into the north of the Jewish state and the occupied Golan, causing fires but no casualties.
An opposition activist in southern Syria said Israeli tanks fired at least four shells at Syrian army and pro-government positions. The activist, who goes by the name of Abu Omar al-Golani, said the shells hit near the Syrian town of Baath and the village of Khan Arnabeh.
“This was the work of Islamic Jihad, an organization financed and working for Iran, and we consider the Syrian government responsible for the firing and it will suffer the consequences,” the Israeli army said.
Islamic Jihad’s leaders are based in the Syrian capital while most of its followers are in the Gaza Strip, whose dominant faction Hamas has mostly been observing a truce with Israel that ended the war in the Palestinian enclave a year ago.
Dawoud Shehab, an Islamic Jihad spokesman in Gaza, denied that the group had fired on Israel from the Syrian Golan. “Israel is trying to divert attention from the defeat that it suffered in the face of the determination of the hero prisoner, Mohammad Allan,” Shehab told Reuters.
Allan had refused food in protest against being detained without trial by Israel.
He called off the 65-day hunger strike Wednesday after Israel’s top court suspended his arrest warrant.
The possibility that Allan might die of his fast had drawn Islamic Jihad threats to attack Israel, which in turn deployed Iron Dome rocket interceptors outside Gaza as a precaution.
Islamic Jihad acknowledges receiving support from Iran, Israel’s arch-foe. Israel has sought to highlight such Iranian backing for regional armed groups as it campaigns against U.S. congressional approval of the July 14 deal curbing Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for international sanctions relief.
Israel captured the western Golan in the 1967 war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. While saying it is keeping out of the Syrian civil war and that some of the shooting against its side of the Golan has been stray fire, Israel has usually retaliated against Damascus’ assets over the armistice line. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon visited northern Israel Tuesday to meet military officials.
The attack was unusual as that frontier had been largely quiet since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. By contrast, the Israeli-occupied Golan, about 16 km to the east, has occasionally come under fire from within Syria during the 4-year-old civil war there.
Since Syria’s war erupted in 2011, the Golan has been tense, with a growing number of rockets and mortar rounds hitting the Israeli side.