Israel army warns Syria of Golan unrest 'consequences'
JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse
IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz visited Golan Heights on May 21. AA / IDF PRESS RELEASEThe head of Israel's armed forces warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on May 21 of "consequences" if fire continues from Syrian territory against Israeli troops in the occupied Golan Heights.
"If he disturbs the Golan Heights, he will have to bear the consequences," Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said in an address at Haifa University and broadcast on Israeli television.
"We cannot and shall not allow the Golan Heights to become a comfort zone for Assad," he said. He spoke hours after Israeli troops and Syrian forces exchanged fire across the sensitive ceasefire line on the Golan Heights, but the Jewish state denied Syrian claims one of its vehicles had been destroyed.
The Syrian army "fired on an Israeli patrol, which we confirmed six hours ago, but did not destroy a vehicle or kill anyone," Israeli military spokesman Avichai Adraee wrote on Twitter.
Syria claimed to have destroyed an Israeli military vehicle it said had crossed the ceasefire line during the incident.
Israel earlier said it had responded to fire from inside Syria that hit a military patrol in the Golan Heights overnight, damaging a military vehicle.
Gantz said that at no point did the vehicle enter Syrian-controlled territory and suggested that Syria was fabricating a story with an obsolete Israeli vehicle left behind in Lebanon during Israel's 2006 war there against Syrian ally Hezbollah.
"It's a totally absurd story about an old 2002 model jeep," he said. The Golan Heights have been tense since the beginning of the conflict in Syria more than two years ago.
However, there have been only minor flare-ups in the area to date, with Syrian shells crashing in the occupied Golan and Israel firing in retaliation.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said on May 21 that Israel did not want to get sucked into Syria's war, but that fire at Israeli targets from across the border would not be tolerated.
"Our policy is clear: we will not intervene in the Syrian civil war, but concerning the situation in the Golan Heights, we will not permit gunfire against our territory," he said in a statement.
Israel, which is technically at war with Syria, seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan from its Arab neighbour in the 1967 Six-Day War. It later annexed the territory, in a move never recognised by the international community.