Syrian opposition fighters say they've seized a border crossing with Israel, amid heavy fighting with Assad forces. More than 20 people died in the clashes, which reportedly spilled over into Israel.
Syrian rebels announced control of a border crossing with Israel in the Golan Heights on Wednesday, following heavy clashes with President Bashar Assad's forces.
The seizure was confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said fighters of al-Qaeda's Nusra Front and the Western-backed opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) had taken the Quneitra crossing. The London-based monitoring group said there had also been fighting in a number of surrounding villages and that at least 20 Syrian government forces had been killed. It wasn't clear how many rebels had died in the fighting.
General Ibrahim Jbawi, spokesman for the FSA's southern front, informed the AP news agency of the takeover, which was yet to be confirmed by the Syrian government or the Israeli military.
Earlier, the Israeli military (IDF) reported fire in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, adding that one of its officers had been injured by what appeared to be spillover fire from the Syrian side of the de facto border. Large clouds of smoke were observed, with gunfire and explosions sounding in the distance. The IDF said in a statement it had returned fire, targeting two Syrian army positions. "Hits were confirmed," the IDF statement read.
Objective 'not Israel'
The FSA said its forces weren't looking to push Assad's troops from all of Quneitra, where one border post remains under government control. It also said opposition forces posed no threat to Israel.
"Our aim isn't Israel right now, and we in the FSA haven't targeted Israeli lands," said spokesman Kenan Mohammed, adding that the rebels' focus is on Assad and the extremist Islamic State [IS] group. "The matter of Israel - it's not for now."
The capture of the post along Syria's Golan frontier holds more symbolic value than strategic, but the FSA said it would provide relief to nearby villages that were under siege by government troops.
Israel has occupied the Golan Heights, a plateau between its northeast and Syria's southwest, since taking it from Syria in the Arab-Israeli War in 1967.
Though technically still at war with Damascus, Israel has avoided taking sides in Syria's ongoing civil war, which has killed over 191,000 people and sent over two million on the run since the conflict broke out in early 2011.
glb/ksb (Reuters, AFP, AP)