Quneitra Governorate clashes (2012–present)
|2012 Quneitra Governorate clashes|
|Part of the Syrian civil war|
Ceasefire line between Syrian controlled territory and the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan Heights in 2004. The white buildings to the right belong to UN peacekeepers.
|Syrian National Coalition||Syria|
|Commanders and leaders|
|unknown|| Bashar al-Assad
Wael Nader Al-Halqi
|at least 200 fighters||7th Mechanised Division
|Casualties and losses|
| 2 military vehicles damaged
2 Israeli soldiers lightly injured
The 2012-2013 Quneitra Governorate clashes began in early November 2012, when the Syrian Army began engaging with rebels in several towns and villages of the Quneitra Governorate. The clashes quickly intensified and spilled into the UN-supervised neutral demilitarized zone between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
The fighting came to international attention when Syrian rebels took hostage 21 Filipino UN personnel, who had been a part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the neutral buffer zone between Syria and Israel. According to UN official they were taken hostage near Observation Post 58, which had sustained damage and was evacuated the previous weekend, following heavy combat in close proximity at Al Jamla. The UN personnel were later released with Jordanian mediation.
Israel has been briefly involved in the fighting in several incidents, such as on 11 November 2012, when mortar shells from Syria landed near an Israeli military outpost in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, responding by firing "warning shots" into Syria. This accounted for the first direct cross-border incidents between the two countries since the Yom Kippur War nearly forty years prior. Other occasions of short cross-border fire exchanges followed in early 2013, with several wounded reported.
During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria. After a failed attempt to recapture the region in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Syria and Israel have remained in a shaky truce with a United Nations-monitored demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the countries. Many countries have condemned Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights, especially their unilateral annexation of the area in 1981 and subsequent settlement construction.
The border remained quiet for nearly four decades until the outbreak of the Arab Spring. During the 2011 Israeli border demonstrations, Palestinian protesters approached the border and were subsequently fired upon by Israeli forces. Four demonstrators were killed and dozens were injured. Additionally, Israeli soldiers were injured when protesters attempted to cross into the Druze town of Majdal Shams located on the Israeli-occupied side of the ceasefire line. As the Syrian civil war progressed, border clashes began to escalate, with spillover conflicts in Lebanon and Turkey prompting fears of an escalation to a wider regional conflict.
There were some concerns of civil unrest on the Israeli side of the border as well, particularly among the Golan Druze. The Druze population of the Israeli-occupied portion of Golan Heights numbers around 20,000 individuals, with majority of them still holding Syrian citizenship. Prior to the war, the Golan Druze were overwhelmingly in support of the government of Bashar al-Assad, as his government has long been staunchly supportive of their interests and opposition to Israeli rule. Many of them were able to conduct business across the border in Syria as a result of agreements between the Syrian and Israeli governments. As the civil war deepened, however, a minority of Golan Druze began to voice opposition to the Assad government. According to local sources, perhaps 22 individuals had crossed the border into Syria to fight for the rebels by late September 2012. Public support for the Syrian government nevertheless remains high, while rumours of pro-Assad spies intimidate potential dissenters fearful of being banned from cross-border trade.
Rebel-Government clashes and border incidents
On 2 November 2012, three Syrian Army tanks crossed into the UN-administered demilitarized zone and clashed with rebels near the village of Beer Ajam. During the clashes, stray bullets hit an Israeli patrol in the area. Israel responded on 5 November by filing a complaint with the United Nations Security Council, claiming Syria violated the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement signed following the Yom Kippur War. The terms of the 1974 armistice prevent the Syrian military from conducting operations within the DMZ. Sources within the Israeli military cite these restrictions as a potential reason why the armed opposition drew the army into combat in the area.
By 10 November, at least 30 Syrian rebels and soldiers had been killed in the fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Clashes were reportedly ongoing in and around the villages of Bariqa, Beer Ajam and al-Hersh.
On 11 November, a stray mortar shell from fighting in Syria's Quneitra Governorate landed near an Israeli military outpost in the Golan Heights. Israel responded with a "warning shot" and released a statement warning further retaliation if the attacks persist.
On 12 November, Syrian Government forces began shelling opposition positions in the village of Bariqa near the border with Israel. A foreign journalist reported seeing the fighting from the Israeli side of the border, with government forces driving rebels toward the border with heavy artillery. About thirty minutes later, a shell from Syria landed near Tel Hazeka in the Golan Heights. Israel retaliated by shelling Syrian government positions with Merkava tanks, resulting in "direct hits" on the sources of the fire. According to Israeli Army Radio, the Assad government requested that Israel stop firing, though it was not clear if the Israeli shelling caused any casualties.
By 13 November, a force of at least 200 rebels had captured the Syrian-side villages of Beer Ajam and Bariqa. Rebels were reportedly in control of the areas to the north and south of Quneitra. The following day, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak claimed that rebels were in control of most of the villages on the eastern slopes of the Golan Heights, and that the Syrian Army had been unable to enter them.
On 17 November 2012, there was another incident where Syrian army fire hit an IDF patrol near the DMZ, damaging one jeep although no injuries were reported. Israeli artillery responded by shelling the army position and Syrian army fired back with mortars. Israel confirmed a direct hit on the source of fire and said that Syrian soldiers may have been killed by the incident.
On 25 November, clashes between rebels and the army resulted in stray bullets striking near an IDF vehicle driving along a fence at the Israeli border with the DMZ. No injuries or damages were reported, and Israel did not retaliate.
On 23 December, SOHR reported fighting between rebels and the army in the town of Hureyra in which rockets were fired. Jebata al-Khashab was also reportedly shelled by the army.
On 25 December, three civilians reportedly died in the bombardment of the village of Jaba, according to SOHR, which also reported "violent clashes" in the town of Khan Arnaba. On 27 December, SOHR reported one rebel and one civilian killed in clashes in the province.
On 28 December, SOHR reported that six rebels, including a commander, and five government soldiers were killed in combat in the villages of Ruwayhinah and Zubaydah. The following day, SOHR reported that two rebels died of their wounds incurred in earlier combat with government forces in the area.
On 30 December, SOHR reported clashes between rebels and government troops in Beer Ajam that left one rebel dead.
On 6 January 2013, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that the Israeli army would be building an improved security fence in the border between the Israeli-occupied and sovereign Syrian zones of the Golan Heights. He stated that the Syrian army had largely "backed off" from the area, leaving it in control of "global jihad operatives" and that the fence would protect Israeli territory from "infiltrations and terror". An Israeli security official stated that around 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) of the fence had already been completed, with approximately 60 kilometres (37 mi) remaining.
On 6 March 2013, 21 UN personnel were taken hostage by Syrian rebels in the neutral zone. They were later released with Jordanian mediation.
On 24 March 2013, the IDF fired a guided missile at a Syrian machine gun nest after Israeli troops were shot at twice in the Golan Heights. No Israeli soldiers were hurt in the shooting, during which army vehicles were hit.
On 7 May 2013, 18 rebel fighters were reported killed in heavy fighting in the province.
There was an exchange of fire between Syria and Israel on 21 May 2013 in the Golan Heights. An Israeli vehicle was hit by Syrian fire with the Israeli's retaliating and destroying the source of the attack.
Early on 6 June 2013, rebels attacked and temporarily captured a Golan border crossing. However, the same day, government forces counter-attacked with tanks and armoured personnel carriers, recapturing the crossing. Al Jazeera's Sue Turton, reporting from the Golan Heights, said that this marked a significant point in the crisis. Rebels also attacked a military checkpoint in the largely destroyed and abandoned city of Quneitra. A shell landed in UN base nearby as a result of Government-Rebel fire-exchanges. An Austrian defense ministry official confirmed to the Associated Press that rebel troops captured the crossing point and that UN forces have withdrawn from the area.
On 17 July, an Israeli army force on a routine patrol of the border with Syria came under fire and shot back at a group of unidentified suspects on the frontier. There were no injuries among IDF soldiers in the incident.
On 17 August 2013, after several Syrian mortar shells exploded in the Golan Heights - the IDF fired a guided missile at a Syrian army post.
Israel – On 12 November, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "we are closely following the events and will respond accordingly," and that Israel "won't allow its borders to be breached or its citizens to be fired upon."
Syria – On 13 November, the Syrian government, through the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), pledged to halt firing toward Israeli territory.
- AFP (6 January 2013). "Israel to fortify Syria border fence". NOW. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
- Syria retakes Israeli-occupied Golan crossing
- Syrian army retakes Golan frontier crossing
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- United Nations Security Council Document 11302-Add.1 S-11302-Add.1 on 30 May 1973 (retrieved 2008-07-01)
- "Letter to UNSC regarding the Syrian Border". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 5 November 2012.
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- Williams, Dan; Alistair Lyon (14 November 2012). "Israel says Syrian rebels hold villages on Golan slopes". Jerusalem: Reuters. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
- Fire exchanges on Syrian border; IDF jeep damaged
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- Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (25 December 2012). "Al-Qneitra Province". Facebook. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
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- Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (29 December 2012). "Preliminary death toll for 29/12/2012". Facebook. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
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- Israel opens fire after 'shooting from inside Syria', BBC News, 24 Mar 2013, retrieved 25 Mar 2013
- al-Qneitra province
- Syria conflict: Army 'retakes Golan Heights crossing'
- IDF patrol comes under fire on Golan Heights, Jerusalem Post. July 17, 2013
- IDF strikes Syrian army post following mortar shells falling on Golan, Jerusalem Post. August 17, 2013
- Barak Ravid (12 November 2012). "Netanyahu says Israel to determine if Syrian mortar fire was intentional". Haaretz.
- Yoav Zitun (13 November 2012). "Syria pledges to halt fire on Israel". YNet News.
- Roi Kais (12 November 2012). "Rebels warn Israel against Syria interference". YNet News.