Israeli air strikes in Golan 'kill Syrian soldier'

An Israeli army tank near the town of Majdal Shams in the occupied Golan Heights, with Mount Hermon in the background (19 March 2014) The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has great political and strategic significance

Israel says it has attacked several Syrian military sites in retaliation for a bombing that wounded four of its troops in the occupied Golan Heights.

Syrian state media said one soldier was killed and seven others were wounded at three positions outside Quneitra.

The Israeli military said the targets had included a headquarters, a training facility and artillery batteries.

The Syrian army had "aided and abetted" the attack on a patrol near the ceasefire line on Tuesday, it added.

But the Syrian General Command of the Army and Armed Forces was quoted as saying the air strikes were an attempt to "divert attention from the successive victories" of its troops against rebel forces, particularly the recapture of the town of Yabroud, north of Damascus, over the weekend.

It also drew a connection between the strikes and an attack by rebels on a prison outside the southern city of Deraa on Wednesday, during which dozens of inmates are reported to have been released.

Israel was warned that "such aggressive acts would jeopardise the region's security and stability, and make it vulnerable to all options".

'Forceful' defence

The Israeli air force has conducted several attacks on Syria since the uprising began three years ago.

Map

Those air strikes are believed to have prevented the transfer of stockpiles of rockets from the Syrian government to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement that supports President Bashar al-Assad.

These latest operations though were direct acts of retaliation, reports the BBC's Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem.

The choice of targets demonstrates that Israel is clearly blaming Syrian government forces, and not rebel fighters or units of Hezbollah, for the attack on its patrol, our correspondent says.

Israel has used artillery against Syrian targets on the Golan to respond in previous incidents, but its use of military aircraft on this occasion raises the incident to a more significant level, he adds.

At the start of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that his country would act "forcefully" to defend itself against any attack.

"Our policy is very clear: we hurt those who hurt us," he said.

Demilitarised zone

The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

A wounded Israeli soldier is taken to a hospital after a bomb blast in the Golan Heights on 18 March 2014 Israel said its soldiers were injured as they approached the demilitarized zone on Tuesday

The two countries remain technically in a state of war, and UN observers are deployed to monitor a 70km-long (44-mile) demilitarised zone.

On Tuesday, the four Israeli soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, when an explosive device was detonated as they approached the fence demarcating the demilitarised zone.

Israeli military spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner said the attack was an "unacceptable escalation of violence from Syria".

Two weeks ago, Israeli troops shot two "Hezbollah-affiliated terrorists" attempting to plant an explosive device near the fence demarcating the demilitarised zone, the Israeli military said.

And on Friday, an explosive device was detonated near soldiers patrolling the nearby border with Lebanon. No casualties were reported after the incident in the Mount Dov area, which Israel blamed on Hezbollah.

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