– Israeli airstrikes escalate tensions with Syria (AP, March 19, 2014):
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli warplanes unleashed a series of airstrikes on Syrian military posts early Wednesday, killing one soldier and wounding seven in one of the most serious clashes between the countries in the past four decades.
The airstrikes came in retaliation for a roadside bombing a day earlier in the Golan Heights that wounded four Israeli soldiers on patrol along the tense frontier with Syria. The overnight raids marked a sharp escalation of activity for Israel, which largely has stayed on the sidelines during Syrian President Bashar Assad’s battle against rebels trying to topple him.
It is unclear which of the many groups fighting in Syria may have planted Tuesday’s bomb. But Israel has said it holds Assad responsible for any attacks emanating from his country, and accused his forces of allowing the attack to take place.
“Our policy is clear. We hurt those who hurt us,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Assad would “regret his actions” if attacks continue.
Israel captured the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. It later annexed the area, though that move is not internationally recognized.
Gunfire and mortar shells from the fighting in Syria have occasionally landed in the Golan in recent years. Israel has said much of the fire was errant, but has responded with artillery fire in several cases in which it believed the attacks were intentional. None of those reprisals, however, were as intense as Wednesday’s airstrikes.
The Israeli military said its warplanes hit a Syrian army training facility, an army headquarters and artillery batteries. Israel also had carried out artillery strikes against Syrian military targets shortly after Tuesday’s bombing.
The Syrian military said the raids early Wednesday targeted three army posts near the town of Quneitra, on the edge of the Israeli-occupied part of the Golan. It confirmed the death of one soldier and said seven were wounded.
The Syrian army denounced the airstrikes as Israel’s “desperate attempt to escalate and worsen the situation” and to divert attention from Damascus’ advances on the battlefront, especially the military’s capture last weekend of a key rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border.
“Repeating such hostile acts (airstrikes) would endanger the security and stability of the region and make it open to all possibilities,” a Syrian military statement said.