Pitched battles between President Bashar Assad’s forces and Islamist rebels in Syria, fighting in the area of Quneitra spilled over into Israel Wednesday morning as an al-Qaeda linked rebel group reportedly took control of the only crossing between Israel and Syria.
A border monitoring group reported that Syrian rebels, including al-Qaeda’s affiliate Al-Nusra Front, seized control of the border crossing.
“Al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups took the Quneitra crossing, and heavy fighting with the Syrian army is continuing in the surrounding area,” confirmed Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO.
Six mortar shells were fired into Israel on Wednesday and exploded on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. There were no casualties, but the mortars did cause damage to some vehicles.
Shortly afterwards, an IDF officer was light-to-moderately wounded, although the IDF was not able to say as to whether the cause for the injury was a result of shrapnel or stray gunfire emanating from Quneitra. The officer was evacuated to Rambam Hospital in Haifa.
The IDF responded by firing at two military positions near the source of the mortar fire.
Syrian rebel groups later announced the “liberation” of the Quneitra border crossing.
Later in the evening, an Israeli man was lightly wounded when a seventh mortar launched from Syria exploded near him, hours after the Islamist rebels in Syria captured the border crossing.
Early Thursday morning, Syrian media reported that Syrian army jets were bombing rebel positions near the Israeli border. According to Reuters, the jets are striking near the Quneitra crossing. However, the rebels appear to be “holding ground.”
Rebels and government forces have been struggling for control over many parts of southern Syria, and are continuing to fight for control of the only crossing from Syria into Israel.
Farmers and agricultural workers have been instructed to avoid the areas near the border, as heavy fighting continued to rage in Quneitra and the surrounding area. Additionally, as a preventative measure the nearby Volcanic Park and the Emek Quneitra Observation Point have been closed to tourists.
This is the third time in recent weeks that fallout from the fighting in Syria has spilled over into Israel. Earlier in the week, rockets were fired into the Golan Heights from Syria. On Sunday night, air raid sirens sounded in northern Israel and the remains of five rockets were found scattered in the area the next morning. The rockets caused no casualties and lightly damaged an electric cable.
Also this week, terrorists in Lebanon fired several rockets into northern Israel.
Last month a rocket from Syria prompted Israeli artillery to shell Syrian army positions.
In June Israeli warplanes attacked Syrian military headquarters and positions after an Israeli teenager was killed in a cross-border attack by forces loyal to the Assad regime.
Echoes of numerous explosions can be heard throughout the Golan emanating from the fighting. The rebel forces are attempting to wrest Quneitra, Assad’s last stronghold in southern Syria, away from him. This is the second offensive by the rebels against Quneitra.