News Column

Syria, Israel Trade Shots in Golan Heights

May 21, 2013

The Israeli army on Tuesday fired at a target in Syria after one of its military vehicles was hit by cross-border fire in the Golan Heights.

The Syrian Army said it destroyed an Israeli military vehicle that crossed the ceasefire line in the Golan, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed.

It was the first time since Syria's uprising erupted more than two years ago that the Syrian Army deliberately opened fire at Israeli troops on the strategic plateau.

The Syrian Army said the Israeli vehicle was heading towards the village of Bir Ajam, where rebel forces are positioned.

The Israeli military denied the vehicle had crossed the ceasefire line or had been destroyed by Syrian fire. An Israeli military source said Israel returned fire with a missile and recorded a direct hit on the source of the Syrian fire without specifying what that source was.

Israel lodged a complaint with the United Nations over the incident.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in an interview published Sunday, accused Israel of supporting the rebels fighting to overthrow him.

Israel has bombed targets in Syria on three occasions since the beginning of the year. It said those strikes were meant to block Syrian transfers of weapons to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, in Madrid, the opposition Syrian National Coalition called for a transitional government under UN auspices to end the country's civil war. The new government should launch a constitutional process within a year's time, the main Syrian opposition group said.

A "council of the wise" should first be created to pave the way for the formation of the government, the coalition said after two days of talks between opposition representatives.

It rejected al-Assad's involvement in the transition and said he needs to be held accountable for the bloodshed in Syria.

On the sidelines of the meeting, Spain announced a turnaround in its position on the conflict. It now supports supplying defence material to the Syrian opposition for the protection of civilians, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said.

Before, Spain had only backed "non-lethal" aid while France and Britain wanted to go further.

Spain would defend its new position at an EU foreign ministers meeting next week, Garcia-Margallo said after meeting Moaz al-Khatib, the former leader of the Syrian National Coalition.

The European Union is divided over how to proceed when its arms embargo on Syria expires at the end of the month. Britain and France are leading calls for a partial lifting of the ban to aid the opposition.

Al-Khatib said the delay of the international community in taking a "clear" stance in the Syrian conflict was encouraging extremist and fundamentalist tendencies in the country.

The opposition was seeking a common position to present at a conference in Geneva that has been proposed by Russia and the United States. No date has been set.

On the ground Tuesday, violence between rebels and troops flared along the Jordanian-Syrian border, stranding about 10,000 Syrians, a Jordanian security source said.

Andrew Harper, the Jordan representative of the UN Refugee Agency, expressed concern that intensified fighting has "closed all routes into Jordan" as Tuesday became the fourth-straight day without a refugee being registered by the agency.

More than 80,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to UN estimates, and 1.5 million people have fled the country since the uprising began in March 2011.

In Lebanon, at least two people were killed in fighting in the northern port city of Tripoli between forces who support and oppose the Syrian government, Lebanese police said.

Tripoli has seen repeated clashes between Lebanese groups divided over the conflict in Syria.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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