BEIRUT/OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli Cabinet ministers Tuesday accused forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad of being behind a weekend cross-border attack that killed an Arab Israeli teenager.
The attack prompted Israel to hit back with tank fire and airstrikes, which Syria said killed four of its soldiers, in the most serious cross-border hostility between the two sides for months.
“We received all the analyses and intelligence: It was clear that it was Syrian authorities,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told public radio.
“Assad’s forces fired at the Israeli civilian, on the vehicles that had stopped by the border, and they need to pay the price,” he added.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon echoed his comments.
“Any attack on our sovereignty on the Golan Heights will be followed by a harsh response in kind against Assad’s forces,” Yaalon told public radio.
A 13-year-old Israeli Palestinian, the son of a Defense Ministry contractor, was killed on the plateau Sunday when a missile hit the car he was in with his father.
The Israeli army said it was a deliberate attack on Israel, but was initially uncertain as to whether regime or opposition forces were behind it. A number of Islamist and mainstream rebel groups, along with the Al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front, are active in Qunaitra province, but no claims of responsibility have been made.
Israel responded immediately with tank fire and later airstrikes targeting Syrian military headquarters and positions.
Syria said the strikes killed four soldiers and wounded nine, and Monday urged the United Nations to condemn Israel’s “flagrant violation” of its territory.
Lieberman said the Israeli response was “just how it should have been,” and warned: “That’s also how it will be in the future.”
“I hope Damascus got the message,” he added.
The Israeli army, meanwhile, said it was “observing the border very closely” and was “prepared for any development,” but made no major changes in its deployment on the border.
It was Israel’s first air raid against Syrian forces since March, when the Jewish state launched strikes after a bomb wounded four of its soldiers on the Golan.
That bombing marked the most serious escalation along the cease-fire line with Syria since the 1973 Middle East War, with Yaalon warning at the time that Damascus would pay a “high price” for helping militants bent on harming Israel.
In eastern Syria, militants from the Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS clashed with the Nusra Front and its Islamist and local allies in rural Deir al-Zor, as part of a campaign by ISIS to meet up with its forces on the Iraqi border.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based anti-regime group, said the fighting raged around the village of Muhasan, which was seized by ISIS last week.
The Observatory said that Nusra Front militants summarily executed an Islamist rebel commander who had pledged loyalty to ISIS.
The commander, originally an army lieutenant who defected during the uprising, was from the town of Al-Bukamal on the border with Iraq, the Observatory said.
ISIS militants have recently seized territory on the Iraqi side of the border with Al-Bukamal and are attempting to take the town as part of their two-country campaign.
Elsewhere, rebel mortar fire on a government-held district of Damascus killed five people, state media said, as a car bomb killed one person in a pro-government area of the city of Homs.
Five people were also wounded by the mortar fire on the south Damascus district of Kisweh, the state SANA news agency reported.
The car bomb in Homs wounded at least 15 people, including a woman, in an Alawite-majority neighborhood, the Observatory said.
The city has been hit by a series of car bombs since rebels withdrew from Old Homs under a U.N.-brokered truce last month after enduring a two-year siege by the army.
Southeast of the capital, pro-government forces fired three missiles at the rebel-held town of Mliha, which has been virtually flattened by months of bombardment by the army and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
The death toll from a Friday truck bombing in the central province of Hama meanwhile rose to 43, including 11 children, the Observatory said.
The bombing was claimed by the Islamic Front, which said it had targeted a military target, although anti-regime sources have said a number of civilians were among the casualties.