The Israeli army said Monday that it had targeted and hit a Syrian mobile artillery battery after an errant mortar shell fired during fighting between Syrian troops and rebels landed near an army post in the Israeli-held Golan Heights.
It was the first time Israeli forces had engaged Syrian troops across the Golan frontier since the 1973 Middle East war, and it came a day after the army fired a guided antitank missile into Syria as a warning after another stray mortar round hit a military post.
The renewed fire Monday further heightened concerns that the Syrian conflict could draw in Israeli forces stationed in the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau taken by Israel from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. The cease-fire line in the Golan, where Israeli and Syrian troops are separated under terms of a disengagement agreement, has been quiet for decades.
The fighting in Syria has already led to sporadic clashes on the country’s borders with Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, raising fears that it could trigger wider regional conflict.
An Israeli army statement said a mortar round fired “as part of the internal conflict inside Syria” landed harmlessly Monday in an open area near an army outpost in the central Golan Heights. The same post was hit Sunday by a stray mortar shell.
Israeli troops responded by firing “tank shells toward the source of the fire, confirming direct hits,” the statement said. Military officials said that the tank fire hit a Syrian mobile artillery unit and that there was no response from Syrian forces.
There was no immediate comment from Syria on the strike.
The Israeli army said it had lodged a complaint with U.N. forces stationed between Israeli and Syrian lines in the Golan Heights, with a warning that Israel will respond “severely” to fire from Syrian territory.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak had warned after the Israeli missile was fired Sunday that further incoming fire from Syria would “provoke a harsher response and will exact a price from Syria.”
He said the army had been ordered to prevent a spillover of the fighting in Syria into Israeli-held territory, and after several recent incidents in which mortar rounds and small arms fire reached the Golan, he had ordered the army to respond.