Jerusalem, 27 Jan 2015:Two rockets fired from Syria struck the Israeli-controlled portion of the Golan Heights on Tuesday and Israel responded with artillery toward the suspected launching sites in Syria, according to the Israeli military. The exchange added to already heightened tensions along a once-quiet frontier that has been increasingly destabilized by the Syrian civil war.
No casualties were reported on the Israeli side, where sirens warned of the incoming rockets, which fell on open ground. The military ordered the evacuation and closure of the ski slopes of the Mount Hermon resort and the police briefly closed some roads in the area. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group, said Israel had bombed bases of the Syrian Army. There was no immediate information about casualties on the Syrian side.
The rocket attack came nine days after a deadly airstrike on a convoy in the Syrian portion of the Golan Heights that was attributed to Israel. The airstrike killed five fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah organization, including the son of the groupâ€™s slain military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, as well as an Iranian general.
That rare, direct confrontation between Israel and its enemies on Syrian soil immediately raised the stakes along the decades-old cease-fire line between Israel and Syria. It put the Israeli Army on high alert in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, and along the border with Lebanon. A top Iranian commander had threatened retaliation and warned Israel to prepare for a â€œshattering thunderbolt.â€
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said Tuesdayâ€™s rocket fire appeared to have been intentionally directed into Israeli-held territory, but said that the military authorities could not determine whether it was meant as revenge.
There have been several exchanges of fire across the 1974 cease-fire line in recent months and years that were considered spillover from the Syrian civil war, with Israel saying it was responding to mortar shells fired either errantly or intentionally into Israeli-controlled territory.
Israel has declared a policy of neutrality regarding the struggle between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels, but at the same time it has been carrying out a covert campaign to prevent the transfer of sophisticated weapons from Syria to Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shiite organization.
Israel and Hezbollah engaged in a monthlong war in 2006. Hezbollah is now fighting in Syria on the side of the Assad government.
Further complicating the situation, much of the Syrian side of the frontier in the Golan Heights is under the control of rebel groups fighting the Assad government, including radical jihadist forces.
Israel has bombed Syrian territory several times, targeting weapons storehouses and convoys said to be bound for Hezbollah, without provoking retaliation from the group. But the airstrike this month that killed the Hezbollah fighters and the Iranian general has increased the risk of entanglement.
Israeli officials have remained silent about the airstrike, maintaining a policy of ambiguity in such cases meant in part to stave off retaliation. Israeli military commentators who appeared to have been briefed by officials said that Hezbollah and Iran were jointly building an infrastructure in the Syrian Golan Heights for attacks against Israeli forces and communities in the region.
On Tuesday, before the rockets fell, about 1,000 visitors had entered the small Israeli ski resort at Mount Hermon. Tamar Durst, who had brought her son to ski there as a birthday surprise, said she heard an announcement instructing all civilians to evacuate the area, but there was no panic. â€œThe evacuation was orderly, the order was exemplary,â€ she told Israel Radio. â€œEveryone was very disciplined and returned the equipment,â€ she added.