Friday, November 16, 2012

Gaza, Egypt, Israel, Syria, War. Iran's Agenda in the Gaza Offensive.

update 11/16/2012 7:20pm GMT


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update 11/16/2012 11:17am GMT

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update 11/16/2012 9:40am GMT

Iran's Agenda in the Gaza Offensive

November 16, 2012 | 0034 GMT


To begin to make sense of the escalating conflict in Gaza, we need to go back to the night of Oct. 23 in Khartoum. Around 11 p.m. that night, the Yarmouk weapons facility in the Sudanese capital was attacked, presumably by the Israeli air force. There were indications that Iran had been using this facility to stockpile and possibly assemble weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, guided anti-tank missiles and long-range Fajr-5 rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from Gaza. 

One of the major drivers behind Israel's latest air and assassination campaign is its belief that Hamas has a large cache of long-range Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets in its possession. Israel's primary intent in this military campaign is to deny Hamas the ability to use these rockets or keep them as a constant threat to Israel's population centers. This likely explains why in early October, when short-range rocket attacks from Gaza were still at a low level, Israeli officials began conditioning the public to the idea of an "inevitable" Israeli intervention in Gaza. Israel knew Hamas had these weapons in its possession and that it could require a war to eliminate the Fajr rocket threat. It began with the strike on the facility in Sudan, extended to the assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmad Jabari (the architect of the Fajr rocket program) and now has the potential to develop into an Israeli ground incursion in Gaza. 

"All in all, this may turn
out to be a relatively
low-cost, high payoff
maneuver by Iran."

Oct. 23 was not the first time Israel allegedly attacked weapons caches in Sudanese territory that were destined for Gaza. In January 2009, Israel allegedly carried out an airstrike against a weapons convoy northwest of Port Sudan heading to Gaza. The convoy included Fajr-3 rockets and was unusually large, with more than 20 trucks traveling north toward Gaza. The rushed shipment was allegedly arranged by Iran to reinforce Hamas during Operation Cast Lead. Iran was also exposed trying to smuggle weapons to Gaza through the Red Sea. 

Get 2 books free when you subscribeThough efforts were likely made to conceal the weapons cache at Yarmouk, it obviously did not escape Israeli detection. Hamas therefore took a major risk in smuggling the weapons to Gaza in the first place, perhaps thinking they could get away with it since they have been able to with less sophisticated weapons systems. Before Hamas responded to the Nov. 14 Jabari assassination, there were two major spates of rocket and mortar attacks over the past month. The first was Oct. 8-10 and the second was Oct. 22-24. When the decision was made to carry out these attacks, Hamas may not have known that Israel had detected the long-range Fajrs. Launching Grad and Qassam mortars may have been Hamas' attempt at misleading Israel into thinking that Hamas did not even have the Fajr rockets, because otherwise it would have used them. Hamas may have also erroneously assumed that launching mortars and short-range rockets, as it periodically does when the situation gets tense with Israel, would not lead to a major Israeli response. 

By the time Israel attacked the Yarmouk facility, Hamas had to assume that Israel knew of the weapons transfer to Gaza. Hamas then quickly agreed to an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire Oct. 25. When attacks against Israel began picking up again around Nov. 10 -- including an anti-tank attack on an Israeli military jeep claimed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and several dozen more rocket attacks claimed by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and smaller Salafist-jihadist groups -- Hamas appeared more cautious, calling the main Gaza militant groups together on Nov. 12 to seek out another truce. By then, it was too late. They had already inadvertently provided the Israelis with the justification they needed to get public relations cover for their campaign to destroy Hamas' long-range rocket program. 

On Nov. 14, Jabari was assassinated, and Hamas had to work under the assumption that Israel would do whatever it took to launch a comprehensive military campaign to eliminate the Fajr threat. It is at this point that Hamas likely resigned to a "use it or lose it" strategy and launched Fajr rockets toward Tel Aviv, knowing that they would be targeted anyway and potentially using the threat as leverage in an eventual attempt at another truce with Israel. A strong Hamas response would also boost Hamas' credibility among Palestinians. Hamas essentially tried to make the most out of an already difficult situation and will now likely work through Egypt to try to reach a truce to avoid an Israeli ground campaign in Gaza that could further undermine its authority in the territory. 

In Tehran, Iranian officials are likely quite content with these developments. Iran needed a distraction from the conflict in Syria. It now has that, at least temporarily. Iran also needed to revise its relationship with Hamas and demonstrate that it retains leverage through militant groups in the Palestinian territories as part of its deterrence strategy against a potential strike on its nuclear program. Hamas decided in the past year that it was better off aligning itself with its ascendant parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, than remaining tethered to an ideological rival like Iran that was being put on the defensive in the region. Iran could still capture Hamas' attention through weapons sales, however, and may have even expected that Israel would detect the Fajr shipments. 

The result is an Israeli military campaign in Gaza that places Hamas' credibility in question and could create more space for a group like the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has close ties to Iran. The conflict will also likely create tension in Hamas' relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Jordan and Syria, since the Brotherhood, particularly in Egypt, is not prepared or willing to confront Israel beyond rhetoric and does not want to face the public backlash for not doing enough to defend the Palestinians from Israel Defense Forces. All in all, this may turn out to be a relatively low-cost, high payoff maneuver by Iran.

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UPDATE 10-Rockets hit near Tel Aviv as Gaza death toll rises

* Two missiles explode close to Tel Aviv, shocking residents

* Israeli defence minister says militants will pay for this

* Gaza rocket hits Israeli house, kills three

* Hamas holds funeral for slain top commander, vows revenge

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip targeted Tel Aviv on Thursday in the first attack on Israel's commercial capital in 20 years, raising the stakes in a showdown between Israel and the Palestinians that is moving towards all-out war.

Earlier, a Hamas rocket killed three Israelis north of the Gaza Strip, drawing the first blood from Israel as the Palestinian death toll rose to 16, five of them children.

Israeli warplanes bombed targets in and around Gaza city for a second day, shaking tall buildings. In a sign of possible escalation, the armed forces spokesman said the military had received the green light to call in up to 30,000 reserve troops.

Plumes of smoke and dust furled into a sky laced with the vapour trails of outgoing rockets over the crowded city, where four young children killed on Wednesday were buried.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Palestinian militants would pay a price for firing the missiles.

At about the same time, Israeli aircraft conducted a wave of night raids on targets throughout the enclave, unleashing more than 25 strikes in swift succession.

An electricity generator supplying the home of Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh by the Gaza shore was hit by an Israeli missile.

The conflict, launched by Israel with the killing of Hamas's military chief, pours oil on the fire of a Middle East already ablaze with two years of revolution and an out-of-control civil war in Syria.

Egypt's new Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, viewed by Hamas as a protector, led a chorus of denunciation of the Israeli strikes by Palestinian allies.

Mursi's prime minister, Hisham Kandil, will visit Gaza on Friday with other Egyptian officials in a show of support for the enclave, an Egyptian cabinet official said. Israel promised that the delegation would come to no harm.

Israel says its attack is in response to escalating missile strikes from Gaza. Israel's bombing has not yet reached the saturation level seen before it last invaded Gaza in 2008, but Israeli officials have said a ground assault is still an option.

Israeli police said three Israelis died when a rocket hit a four-story building in the town of Kiryat Malachi, 25 km (15 miles) north of Gaza, the first Israeli fatalities of the latest conflict to hit the coastal region.

Air raid sirens sent residents running for shelter in Tel Aviv, a Mediterranean city that has not been hit by a rocket since the 1991 Gulf War. Israeli sources said one rocket landed in the sea, while another landed in an uninhabited area of the Tel Aviv suburbs.

The Tel Aviv metropolitan area holds more than 3 million people, more than 40 percent of Israel's population.

"This escalation will exact a price that the other side will have to pay," Barak said in a television broadcast shortly after the strike.

Speaking at the same time in Gaza, Hamas leader Haniyeh urged Egypt to do more to help the Palestinians.

"We call upon the brothers in Egypt to take the measures that will deter this enemy," the Hamas prime minister said.

After watching powerlessly from the sidelines of the Arab Spring, Israel has been thrust to the centre of a volatile new world in which Islamist Hamas hopes that Mursi and his newly dominant Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will be its protectors.

"The Israelis must realise that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region and would negatively and greatly impact the security of the region," Mursi said.

The new conflict will be the biggest test yet of Mursi's commitment to Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which the West views as the bedrock of Middle East peace.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which brought Mursi to power in an election after the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, has called for a "Day of Rage" in Arab capitals on Friday. The Brotherhood is seen as the spiritual mentors of Hamas.


The Gaza offensive began on Wednesday when a precision Israeli air strike killed Hamas military mastermind Ahmed Al-Jaabari. Israel then began shelling the enclave from land, air and sea.

At Jaabari's funeral on Thursday, supporters fired guns in the air celebrating news of the Israeli deaths, to chants for Jaabari of "You have won."

His corpse was borne through the streets wrapped in a bloodied white sheet. But senior Hamas figures were not in evidence, wary of Israel's warning they are in its crosshairs.

The Israeli army said 250 targets were hit in Gaza, including more than 130 rocket launchers. It said more than 270 rockets had struck Israel since the start of the operation, with

its Iron Dome interceptor system shooting down more than 105 rockets headed for residential areas.

Expecting days or more of fighting and almost inevitable civilian casualties, Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets in Gaza telling residents to stay away from Hamas and other militants.

The United States condemned Hamas, shunned by the West as an obstacle to peace for its refusal to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

"There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organisations are employing against the people of Israel," said Mark Toner, deputy State Department spokesman.

The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting late on Wednesday, but took no action.

French President Francois Hollande has begun talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other world leaders in an attempt to avert an escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Jean-Francois Ayrault said.


Israel's sworn enemy Iran, which supports and arms Hamas, condemned the Israeli offensive as "organised terrorism". Lebanon's Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia Hezbollah, which has its own rockets aimed at the Jewish state, denounced strikes on Gaza as "criminal aggression", but held its fire. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation condemned Israel's action.

Oil prices rose more than $1 as the crisis grew. Israeli shares and bonds fell, while Israel's currency rose off Wednesday's lows, when the shekel slid more than 1 percent to a two-month low against the dollar.

A second Gaza war has loomed on the horizon for months as waves of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes grew increasingly intense and frequent. Netanyahu, favoured in polls to win a Jan. 22 general election, said the Gaza operation could be stepped up.

His cabinet has granted authorisation for the mobilisation of military reserves if required to press the offensive, dubbed "Pillar of Defence" in English and "Pillar of Cloud" in Hebrew after the Israelites' divine sign of deliverance in Exodus.

Hamas has said the killing of its top commander in a precise, death-from-above air strike, would "open the gates of hell" for Israel. It appealed to Egypt to halt the assault.

Israel has been anxious since Mubarak was toppled last year in the Arab Spring revolts that replaced secularist strongmen with elected Islamists in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and brought civil war to Israel's other big neighbour Syria.

Cairo recalled its ambassador from Israel on Wednesday. Israel's ambassador left Cairo on what was called a routine home visit and Israel said its embassy would stay open.

Gaza has an estimated 35,000 Palestinian fighters, no match for Israel's F-16 fighter-bombers, Apache helicopter gunships, Merkava tanks and other modern weapons systems in the hands of a conscript force of 175,000, with 450,000 in reserve.
Israel Hit With Continuing Missile Barrage – 40 Rockets Fired From Gaza

The Jewish homeland continues to come under attack from Palestinian terrorists, who have fired 40 missiles into Israel since Monday, June 18, 2012. The recent round of terror attacks on Israel is particularly serious as Hamas has acknowledged responsibility for 10 of the missiles, violating their tenuous cease fire with Israel yet again.

The Israeli government has taken a swift but limited response to the attacks. The IAF engaged in targeted strikes on suspected Palestinian launch sites, killing 4 terrorists and critically injuring another. The Israeli government and the IDF have made it clear that they will continue Israel’s policy of responding to unprovoked missile attacks by striking directly at the terrorists’ launch sites and weapon storage facilities.

The acceptance of responsibility for some of the attacks by Hamas is a radical departure from their recent policy of allowing other militant groups to launch missiles and denying involvement. According to the Jerusalem Post, “In a statement released by Hamas’s armed wing, the Izzaddin al-Kassam Brigades, the group said that it fired three mortars aimed at an IDF base in Zikim. It later claimed responsibility for 10 missile launches.

Read more at 

Israeli air strike kills Hamas military chief Jabari

The BBC's Wyre Davies: "The violence in and around the Gaza Strip has been escalated"
The head of the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has been killed during Israeli air and naval strikes in the Gaza Strip.
Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari and another Hamas official died when the car they were in was hit in Gaza City.
It follows a wave of rocket attacks against Israel from the territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military was prepared to broaden its operation against Hamas targets in Gaza.
At least nine people had been killed in Gaza by the Israeli strikes and that number would probably rise, the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, Riyad Mansou, told reporters in New York.

Start Quote

Today we sent a clear message to Hamas and other terrorist organisations”
Benjamin NetanyahuIsraeli Prime Minister
A number of injured civilians were seen being taken to hospital in Gaza City.
Neighbouring Egypt condemned the strikes, recalled its ambassador to Israel, summoned the Israeli ambassador in Cairo and called for a urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League.
The BBC's Kevin Connolly, in Cairo, says Egypt's reaction to events in Gaza will be followed closely.
It is the first time violence has reached this pitch of intensity since the events of the Arab Spring brought to power a president drawn from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, the same organisation in which Hamas has its roots.
Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokeswoman Lt Col Avital Leibovich said Mr Jabari had "a lot of blood on his hands".
Child injured in air strike, Gaza City, 14 Nov 12Civilians injured in the air strikes were rushed to Gaza's hospitals
She told BBC News that "close to 20" sites in Gaza had been targeted in a "limited" operation, with the strikes aiming to destroy rocket-firing capabilities.
"The operation against Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other organisations has two goals: to protect Israeli civilians and target the terror capability of these organisations," she added.
On its Twitter feed, the Israeli military said 17 rockets fired from Gaza had been successfully intercepted by Israel's "Iron Dome" missile defence system on Wednesday, but one had got through and hit a "southern Israeli city".
This appeared to be a reference to Beersheba, where firefighters were seen extinguishing a burning car after a reported rocket strike.
It also claimed that Hamas's long-range missile capabilities and underground weapons storage facilities had been seriously damaged by Wednesday's strikes.
"Today we've sent a clear message to Hamas and to other terrorist organisations. And if there is a need, the Israeli Defense Forces are prepared to widen the operation. We will continue to do everything to defend our citizens," Mr Netanyahu said in a televised address.
'Israel will regret this'
Mr Jabari, who was 46, is the most senior Hamas official to be killed in the Gaza Strip since the major Israeli offensive four years ago.
Outside the hospital to which Mr Jabari's body was taken, thousands of angry Gaza residents chanted "retaliation" and "We want you to hit Tel Aviv tonight", according to the Associated Press news agency.
Hamas spokesman Abu Zuhri said: "Israel will regret the moment they even thought of doing this."

Israel ignores intl law with Gaza bombing, enjoys US, UK support (PHOTOS)

An Israeli soldier watches as an Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket near the southern city of Beersheba November 15, 2012. (Reuters / Baz Ratner)
An Israeli soldier watches as an Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket near the southern city of Beersheba November 15, 2012. (Reuters / Baz Ratner)

The latest attacks by Israel against Gaza have been condemned as a violation of international law. However the US and UK have given their unwavering support to the new strikes on Gaza.
US President Barack Obama “reiterated US support for Israel's right to self-defense in light of rocket attacks from Gaza” in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.
Meanwhile UK Foreign Secretary William Hague also stepped forward in Israel’s defense, claiming that Hamas“bears principle responsibility” for the Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Israel has now reportedly hit over 200 “targets” in Gaza, killing 13 and injuring over 120 people.


First three Gaza missiles hit Tel Aviv. Israel drafts 30,000 reservists

DEBKAfile Special Report November 15, 2012, 8:17 PM (GMT+02:00)
Tags:  IDF   Hamas   missile attacks   Gaza 
Israeli leaders decide enough is enough
Israeli leaders decide enough is enough
The first three Palestinian missiles reached the Tel Aviv conurbation, Gush Dan, Thursday night, Nov. 15. shortly after a long-range missile exploded in Rishon Lezion southeast of Tel Aviv and sirens sounded in outlying towns of Holon, Ness Ziona, Gan Raveh and Beer Yacov. None report casualties or damage. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has ordered 30,000 army reservists drafted. The IDF spokesmen earlier reported units of the elite paratroop and Givati Brigades were mustering outside the Gaza Strip on the second day of Israel's counter-terror operation Pillar of Cloud.

From DEBKAfile's earlier report Thursday:  As the rockets kept coming through Wednesday night – and the first three fatalities Thursday morning, Nov. 15 - the cautious lift in Israeli spirits generated by the death of Ahmed Jabari, who fashioned Hamas into a paramilitary machine of terror, and the destruction of dozens of missile sites in Gaza, gave way to resignation for a long haul before southern Israel is free of its decade-long rocket nightmare.
Thursday morning, a rocket from Gaza killed three Israelis in Kiryat Malachi. By then, some 120 rockets – mostly targeting the major towns of Beersheba and Ashdod, but also smaller locations – had followed Jabari's death. Iron Dome intercepted 27.The first reserve units had been mobilized for possible ground action in Gaza to supplement the air offensive against the Palestinian missile arsenal.

 But Operation Pillar of Cloud’s first part showed a favorable balance: Palestinian missile fire was as erratic as ever, although intense; Iron Dome filtered out the rockets aimed at Israel’s major towns; Israeli casualties were relatively low though painful; and the enemy in Gaza was decapitated – for now.

But most of all, the Palestinians and their allies in Tehran and Hizballah suddenly discovered that the old IDF had come roaring back.

In the only former major Israeli operation in Gaza, Cast Lead (late 2008, early 2009), the IDF was slow, unwieldy and unfocused. Its counter-terror offensive was foreshortened by heavy diplomatic pressure before achieving anything, owing to the government’s lack of resolve. In the 2006 Lebanon War, the army was stalled before developing an effective tactical offensive.
The IDF of 2012 is in a different class, recalling its rapid-fire performance in the Six-Day War then fought on multiple fronts.

In just a few hours late Wednesday, Nov. 14, Pillar of Cloud achieved more than Cast Lead managed in weeks: It was driven by clockwork, integrated intelligence by the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence, precise, surgical air force strikes and a command-and-control with fast reflexes which recalled Israel’s military skills of 45 years ago.

The rapid destruction of scores of Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets, whose respective ranges of 45 and 75 kilometers placed Israel’s heartland in line of Palestinian strikes, compared with the destruction of the Egyptian air force on the ground in the early hours of the 1967 war, rather than the bombardment of Hizballah’s long-range missiles in 2006 which failed to draw its sting.
In 1967, the Egyptian army had to fight in Sinai without air cover. In 2012, the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip were stripped of their key commander and terror strategist and lost substantial, though not all, its missile arsenal.

Wherever Operation Pillar of Cloud goes next – and the IDF is preparing for a long, hard haul – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz deserve kudos for their performance thus far.

It may be said that Israel’s Gaza operation did in fact start on Oct. 24 in Sudan with the attack on the Yarmouk complex manufacturing Iranian missiles near Khartoum. Former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin Wednesday confirmed DEBKAfile’s exclusive report that the factory had housed the emergency reserve stocks of the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami in the Gaza Strip.

Its destruction contributed to their loss of infrastructure.

The tough part of the Israeli operation to eliminate the terrorist war peril hovering over southern Israel from the Gaza Strip is still to come. For now, Hamas is at a loss for a strategic answer to the IDF offensive – unless one is provided by Tehran or Hizballah coming to its rescue.

Gaza missiles fired at Tel Aviv

Smoke trail from a rocket launched from the northern Gaza Strip, 15 November 2012Hundreds of rockets have landed in southern Israel in recent days
Palestinian militants have attempted to hit Israel's commercial capital, Tel Aviv, with missiles fired from Gaza.
Residents took cover after air raid sirens alerted them to a missile threat for the first time in two decades, but there were no casualties.
Israel's defence minister authorised the call-up of 30,000 reservists.
Three Israelis were killed by rockets from Gaza earlier, while 15 Palestinians have been killed in two days of Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Israel said 274 missiles had been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel since Wednesday afternoon, when an Israeli strike killed the military leader of Hamas, Ahmed Jabari.
While some of those missiles have been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system, others have hit their targets, including a direct hit on a block of flats in the town of Kiryat Malachi.
Two women and a man living on the top floor were killed.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said: "This escalation will exact a price that the other side will have to pay."
However, Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, condemned what he called Israel's "ferocious assault" against Gaza.

Israel hits Syrian targets after stray mortar fire

Syrian fighter jet bombs rebel-held area near Turkish border

An Israeli tank scored a "direct hit" Monday on a Syrian armoured vehicle after a mortar shell landed on Israeli-held territory, the military said, in the first direct confrontation between the countries since the Syrian uprising broke out.
This comes as a Syrian fighter jet bombed a rebel-held area near the Turkish border on Monday, killing more than a dozen people, while a rocket-propelled grenade landed in Turkey, officials and witnesses said.
The incidents raised fears that Syria's neighbours could be dragged into its ongoing conflict.
"We are closely monitoring what is happening and will respond appropriately," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday in a speech to foreign ambassadors. "We will not allow our borders to be violated or our citizens to be fired upon."
Golan Heights
Israel has steadfastly tried to avoid getting sucked in, but it has grown increasingly worried after a series of stray mortar shells have struck territory in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
Israeli military officials say they believe the mortar fire is spillover from intense fighting near the frontier between Syrian President Bashar Assad's army and rebel forces trying to oust him, and not an overt attempt to hit the Jewish state.

Tanks targeted 'source of fire' in Syria

But on Monday, a senior Israeli official said Israel is starting to question that assessment.
The Israeli military says it has hit Syrian targets, after responding to stray mortar fire from its northern neighbour. The Israeli military says it has hit Syrian targets, after responding to stray mortar fire from its northern neighbour.(Ariel Schalit/Associated Press)
"We thought it was spillover, but today we're not sure," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the issue is still being debated among intelligence commanders.
Israeli officials have long feared that the embattled Assad might try to draw Israel into the fighting in an act of desperation.
In a statement, the military said Israeli tanks targeted the "source of fire" in Syria after the mortar shell landed in an open area of the Golan Heights. It confirmed "direct hits" on the targets.
Israeli military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity under army guidelines, said an armoured vehicle carrying "Syrian mobile artillery" was hit. There was no immediate word on casualties on the Syrian side, but Israeli officials said the vehicle was believed to belong to the Syrian government.
Monday's incident occurred in an area called Tel Hazeka, in the central Golan Heights near the Syrian frontier.
The Syrian Observatory, a Britain-based group that relies on a network of activists on the ground in Syria, said three rebel fighters were killed Monday in clashes with the Syrian army in Bir Ajam, a nearby village.
Smoke rises after shells fired by the Syrian army explode in the Syrian village of Bariqa, near the Syria-Israel border Monday. The Israeli military says Syrian mobile artillery was hit after responding to stray mortar fire from its northern neighbour. Smoke rises after shells fired by the Syrian army explode in the Syrian village of Bariqa, near the Syria-Israel border Monday. The Israeli military says Syrian mobile artillery was hit after responding to stray mortar fire from its northern neighbour. (Ariel Schalit/Associated Press)
Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Britain-based group, said rebels belonging to an Islamist group attacked several Syrian military checkpoints and that government forces fought back for control of the area.
The state-run news agency SANA has not commented on the fighting in the area or on the clash with Israel.
While Israel appeared eager to calm the situation, its response was a potent reminder of how easily the Syrian civil war — already spilling across borders with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — could explode into a wider regional conflagration.

Fatal Syrian bombing near Turkish border

On Monday, a Syrian fighter jet bombed a rebel-held area near the Turkish frontier three times, killing more than a dozen people in the town of Ras al-Ayn, a Turkish official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
The official said close to 70 people were brought to Turkey for treatment, where eight more of them died.
Syrians inspect the damage and look for victims after a bombing Monday near the Syrian-Turkish bordertown of Ras al-Ayn. Syrians inspect the damage and look for victims after a bombing Monday near the Syrian-Turkish bordertown of Ras al-Ayn. (Shaam News Network via AP video/Associated Press)
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking to reporters in Rome, said Ankara had formally protested the bombings close to 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 United Nations Security Council.
The Syrian jet had not crossed the border into Turkey, he said, adding that Turkey would have responded if it had. He did not elaborate.
In recent months, shells fired from Syria have landed on Turkish territory, prompting Turkey's military to retaliate in kind.
Last week, the rebels overran three security compounds in Ras al-Ayn, located in the predominantly Kurdish oil-producing northeastern province of al-Hasaka, wresting control from the regime forces.

Rocket-propelled grenade lands in Turkey

Hours later, a Syrian helicopter was seen flying over Ras al-Ayn, prompting rebels to fire on it with machine-guns. The helicopter returned fire but it was not clear if there were any casualties.
Earlier Monday, a rocket-propelled grenade round landed on an empty field near Ceylanpinar. No one was injured, the official said. Turkey has been responding with fire to shells and mortars fired from Syria that land on its territory, but there was no immediate Turkish retaliation, according to the official.
The force of the blast from the aerial bombing shattered windows in Ceylanpinar, in southeastern Turkey, the official said. A few people were injured in Ceylanpinar, mostly from broken glass and shrapnel. The private Dogan news agency said a Turkish soldier guarding the border area was also hurt.
The violence in Syria has killed more than 36,000 people since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime began in March 2011. Hundreds of thousands have fled the fighting into neighbouring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
A surge of 11,000 more Syrians escaped into Turkey on Friday following the fighting at Ras al-Ayn.

Gulf council recognizes official opposition

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council recognized the new broad-based Syrian opposition group Monday as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, the first formal endorsement of the opposition group that seeks to topple President Bashar Assad.
Syrian anti-government groups struck a deal Sunday after more than a week of meetings in Qatar. They were under intense international pressure to form a new opposition leadership that will include representatives from the country's disparate factions fighting to topple Assad's regime. The deal is backed by the U.S. and other Western countries.
In its statement, the GCC said it will offer "support and endorsement to this entity to realize the aspirations and hopes of the Syrian people." The council said it hoped the new body will be a step toward quick political transfer of power and put an end to the bloodshed. It called for Arab and international recognition of the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, the new body.
The GCC is made up of Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates..


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