Israel attacks Syria: Why it's threatening more airstrikes

Israeli air raids struck nine targets in neighboring Syria overnight, killing four and wounding nine people. Israel's prime minister on Monday warned that more cross-border attacks from Syria would result in more Israeli airstrikes. Syria called the attack a "flagrant violation" of its sovereignty.

By , Associated Press

Israel's prime minister on Monday warned the warring parties in Syria against any attempt to heat up tensions with Israel, hours after the Israeli air force carried out a string of airstrikes in Syria in response to a deadly cross-border attack.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would respond with even tougher force if there are any further attacks against his country.

"Last night we operated with great force against Syrian targets that acted against us, and if needed we will use additional force," he told members of his Likud Party. "We will continue to forcefully hurt anyone who attacks us or tries to attack us."

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The Israeli military said the air raids struck nine targets in neighboring Syria.

The Syrian government says a series of Israeli airstrikes targeting troops killed four people and wounded nine others in its first comment on the incident.

A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry also said the attacks caused extensive damage to Syrian army positions and equipment.

It said five Israeli warplanes carried out the raids, which were accompanied by mortar rounds and tank shells. It called the attack a "flagrant violation" of its sovereignty and accused Israel of backing rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.

The director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdurrahman, said the Israeli strikes destroyed two tanks, two artillery batteries and the headquarters of Syria's 90th brigade.

The Observatory collects its information through a network of activists inside Syria.

The Israeli military said "direct hits were confirmed" on the targets, which were located near the site of Sunday's violence in the Golan Heights and included a regional military command center and unspecified "launching positions."

Israel has kept a close eye on the Syrian uprising since it began in March 2011, although it has avoided backing either side in the conflict. On several occasions, artillery rounds have landed on the Israeli side of the de facto border, drawing limited Israeli reprisals.

Israel also has carried out several airstrikes in Syria over the past three years, primarily targeting suspected weapons shipments allegedly destined for Hezbollah militants in neighboring Lebanon.

The latest air raids, however, came after an Israeli civilian vehicle was struck by what the army says was an anti-tank missile fired from the Syrian side of the border as it drove in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. A teenage Israeli boy was killed and two other people were wounded in what was the first deadly incident along the volatile Israeli-Syrian frontier since the start of the Syrian civil war.

The Israeli vehicle was delivering water in contract work for the Defense Ministry when it was struck Sunday.

"Yesterday's attack was an unprovoked act of aggression against Israel, and a direct continuation to recent attacks that occurred in the area," said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman. He said the military "will not tolerate any attempt to breach Israel's sovereignty and will act in order to safeguard the civilians of the state of Israel."

It was not immediately clear whether Syrian troops or one of the many rebel groups battling the government carried out Sunday's deadly attack in the Golan. But Lerner said it was clear that the attack was intentional.

Israel has repeatedly said it holds the Syrian government responsible for any attacks emanating from its territory, regardless of who actually carries them out. While Israel was still investigating the incident Monday, security officials said the prime suspect was the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a close Syrian ally and bitter foe of Israel.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to talk to the media, said they did not expect the situation to escalate immediately but that it remains tense.

Defense officials have feared that Hezbollah or some other militant group might try to open a new front with Israel at a time when the army is carrying out a broad operation in the West Bank. Thousands of troops have been searching for three teenagers who disappeared on June 12 and are believed to have been kidnapped by Palestinian militants.

Israel captured the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. Its subsequent annexation of the area has never been recognized internationally.

The incident occurred in the area of Tel Hazeka, near the Quneitra crossing. The Observatory said Syrian troops had shelled nearby targets on the Syrian border earlier in the day.

Israeli police identified the boy as Mohammed Karaka, 14, of the Arab village of Arraba in northern Israel. Local media said he had accompanied his father, the truck driver, to work.

___

Lucas reported from Beirut.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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