Israeli army on high alert as Syrian tanks enter Golan Heights


Three Syrian tanks entered a demilitarized zone of the Golan Heights, which was set up in the 1974 disengagement treaty, raising Israel’s high alert as the Israeli military chief observed the area a day after the entrance of the tanks and warned his soldiers to be on high alert.

Later on Monday, an Israeli military vehicle on the occupied Golan Heights was hit by gunfire from neighboring Syria on Monday, the Israeli army said.

“A military vehicle travelling in the Golan was hit by gunfire from Syria. Apparently they were stray bullets, and there were no injuries” to those aboard the vehicle, a military spokesman told AFP.

On Sunday, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz warned Israeli soldiers, occupying the heights area, of the escalating violence in Syria and expressed concerns of possible spread of the Syrian conflict across the border.

“This is a Syrian affair that could turn into our affair,” the army’s website quoted Gantz during his visit to the troops on the frontier.

Marco Carminjani, an official with the U.N. body supervising the zone, said he could not immediately confirm the entry of the tanks. But if the report is true, he said, it would be a violation of the 1974 disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel. He said it would be the first such move in the zone since the accord.

Israel made a complaint to U.N. peacekeepers, a military spokesman said Saturday.

No comments were received from the Syrian government, according to international news agencies.

Syria remains formally at war with Israel, which captured part of the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move the international community does not recognize.

Since a 1974 disengagement agreement between the two countries, a 1,200-strong unarmed U.N. force has patrolled a buffer zone on the heights.

Israel's relatively low-key response of turning to the U.N. said it did not see immediate threat by the presence of the Syrian armor.

But the entry marks the most serious spillover of Syria's turmoil at the frontier to date. Misfired Syrian shells have exploded inside Israel on several occasions and a tourist site was temporarily closed after armed Syrians were spotted nearby recently.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Mideast war in 1967. Later, it seized the strategic territory overlooking northern Israel in a move that is not recognized internationally. Prior to 1967, Syria used the highlands to shell Israeli villages and farms.

Although Syria and Israel have been enemies for over four decades, the Golan Heights has been at peace for the most part.

There is concern in Israel that if the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is toppled, the country could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists or descend into sectarian warfare, destabilizing the region.