TEL HAZEKA, Golan Heights
Israeli tanks struck a Syrian artillery launcher Monday after a stray mortar shell flew into Israel-held territory, the first direct clash between the neighbors since the Syrian uprising began nearly two years ago.
The confrontation fueled new fears that the Syrian civil war could drag Israel into the violence, a scenario with grave consequences for the region. The fighting has already spilled into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
“We are closely monitoring what is happening and will respond appropriately. We will not allow our borders to be violated or our citizens to be fired upon,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday.
While officials believe President Bashar Assad has no interest in picking a fight with Israel, they fear the Syrian leader may try to draw Israel into the fighting in a bout of desperation. Israeli officials believe it is only a matter of time before Syrian rebels topple the longtime leader.
The conflict has spilled over into several of Syria’s other neighbors — whether in direct violence or in the flood of refugees fleeing the bloodshed. More than 36,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, according to estimates.
On Monday, a Syrian fighter jet bombed a rebel-held area hugging the border with Turkey three times, killing 15 to 20 people, a Turkish official said.