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Israel fires warning shots into Syria for first time

Errant fire from Syria into the Israeli-held Golan Heights prompted the retaliatory move and warnings from Israel.

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Earlier, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned, "If a shell falls, we will respond."

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Israel fears that if Assad's regime is toppled, the country could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists or descend into sectarian warfare, destabilizing the region.

It also is afraid that Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons and missile could fall into the hands of its Lebanese ally, the Hezbollah guerrilla group, or other anti-Israel militants if Assad loses power.

The aftermath of Egypt's revolution has also provided Israel with reason to worry about its frontier region with Syria: Egypt's Sinai desert on Israel's southern border has turned even more lawless since longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February 2011, and Islamic militants are now more easily able to use it as a launching ground for strikes against southern Israel.

Fighting in Syria on Sunday was centered around Ras al-Ayn, in the predominantly Kurdish oil-producing northeastern province of al-Hasaka. An Associated Press cameraman on the Turkish side of the border said he heard explosions and saw plumes of smoke rise on the Syrian side.

On Friday, rebels overran three security compounds in the town, wresting control from regime forces, and the fighting there touched off a massive flow of refugees two days ago.

The violence in Syria has killed more than 36,000 people since an uprising against Assad's regime began in March 2011. Hundreds of thousands have fled the fighting into neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Another 11,000 escaped Friday into Turkey following the surge of fighting at Ras al-Ayn.

The mayor of the nearby Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, Ismail Aslan, said the number of refugees had slowed significantly on Sunday. But Turkish soldiers at the border turned back some of the refugees who had arrived late last week and wanted to return to Ras al-Ayn, saying the area was not secure.

In Qatar, Syrian opposition groups resumed talks on forging a more cohesive and representative leadership as the US and other Western countries have advocated.

Ali Sadr el-Din Bayanouni, a former Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader, said opposition groups planned to elect a president and other top officials later Sunday to an umbrella group backed by the US and host Qatar. None of the opposition movements backs dialogue with Assad's regime, he said.

The United States has grown increasingly frustrated with the opposition's inability to overcome deep divisions and rivalries, and has called for a leadership that can rally wider support among activists fighting the Assad regime.

The Syrian National Council, the main opposition faction, is dominated by exiles and has been criticized by the US for not including a broad enough representation, especially of those fighting and dying on the front lines. The SNC said it expects to have 22 seats on the new, 60-member council.

"We need unity for the opposition," said George Sabra, the newly elected leader of the SNC. "This is an important step."

* Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, Mehmet Guzel in Ceylanpinar, Turkey, and Abdullah Rebhy in Doha, Qatar, contributed reporting.

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