AMMAN/BEIRUT: Jordanian warplanes hit and destroyed several vehicles trying to cross the border from Syria, a government spokesman said Wednesday, underlining Amman’s concern about incursions from areas controlled by Syrian rebels.
A Jordanian security source said the targets appeared to have been Syrian rebels with machine guns mounted on civilian vehicles who were seeking refuge from fighting with government forces in southern Syria.
The Syrian state news agency SANA said no Syrian military vehicles were involved in the incident. “What was targeted by the Jordanian air force does not belong to the Syrian army,” a military source was quoted by SANA as saying.
“There was an attempt to infiltrate across the border from Syria by a number of vehicles,” said Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani, also a Cabinet minister.
A Jordanian army statement said the incident took place at around 10:30 a.m. when several camouflaged vehicles attempted to traverse rugged frontier terrain and disregarded warnings not to proceed.
“After repeated warnings that [we] would not allow a violation of the border, a number of air force planes sent warning shots toward the vehicles, but they did not heed these warnings and continued,” it added.
“This forced the army to apply known engagement rules and to destroy the vehicles,” it said.
Photos taken from the air that appeared on several Jordanian news websites showed at least one civilian Chevrolet pickup damaged and another similar vehicle on fire in an unspecified desolate desert area.
No bodies appeared in the photos that a security source said had been released to the outlets by the military.
There was no identification on the vehicles. Such pickups are often used by smugglers in the border area.
Amman has tightened controls along the 370-km border to try to prevent Jordanian Islamist militants who have joined the rebels from crossing back into Jordan. They are seen as a domestic security threat.
Momani said the kingdom was increasingly worried about incursions from Syria. “We are worried about cases of infiltration ... and reports that talk about armed groups that are close to the border and the absence of security there.”
Western diplomats say Jordan has been granted hundreds of millions of dollars from Washington in the past two years to beef up its boundaries with Syria. Amman has constructed scores of observation towers with the latest surveillance equipment.
Meanwhile, opposition activists accused President Bashar Assad’s forces of a new poison gas attack near the Syrian capital, posting footage of four men being treated by medics.
They said the attack, the fourth the opposition has reported this month, was in the suburb of Harasta. Reuters could not independently verify the footage or the allegation due to restrictions on reporting in Syria.
Activists posted a video on YouTube of four men being treated with oxygen. A voice off-screen gave the date and said Assad’s forces used “poison gas in Harasta.” It did not say if there were fatalities.
The face of one of the men appeared to be covered in vomit. He was shown shaking and moaning as doctors treated him. The voice off screen said chemical weapons were also used in Harasta Friday.
A U.N. inquiry found in December that sarin gas had likely been used in Jobar in August and in several other locations, including in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where hundreds of people were killed.
When opposition activists reported that helicopters had dropped chlorine gas on the rebel-held village of Kfar Zeita Friday and Saturday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told ABC’s “This Week” the attack was so far “unsubstantiated.”