Israel and Syria exchange fire on Golan Heights

Israeli soldiers patrol next to the fence on the border with Syria in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, May 7, 2013.

JERUSALEM An Israeli army jeep was hit by gunfire from the Syrian army in the disputed Golan Heights late Monday, but Israel denied claims by Damascus that the vehicle was destroyed.

CBS Radio News correspondent Robert Berger reports that Syria's military claimed in a statement to have destroyed the vehicle "with those in it." It did not elaborate, but said any attempt to infiltrate Syria's sovereignty will face "immediate and firm retaliation. "

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said earlier Tuesday in a written statement that gunfire from Syria hit an Israeli patrol in the Golan Heights overnight, damaging a vehicle and prompting the troops to fire back.

The military said Israeli troops returned fire and reported a "direct hit" on the source of the incoming fire. The IDF statement reported no injuries on the Israeli side. It did not say which side of the ceasefire line the Israeli military vehicle was on when engaged by the Syrian army, saying only that it occurred "on the border."


According to the statement Israel's military "views the recent incidents in the North with concern, and has lodged a complaint" with the United Nations.

Berger reports that border skirmishes and a pair of Israeli air strikes on Syria two weeks ago have raised fears that the Syrian civil war could spill into Israel and spark a broader regional conflict.

Sporadic fire from Syria has occasionally hit the Israeli-controlled area, a strategic plateau Israel captured in the 1967 war. Israel assumes most of the incidents are accidental but its forces have responded on several occasions. Tuesday's incident, however, was the first time the Syrian army acknowledged firing at Israeli troops across the frontier.

Israel and Syria are bitter foes who have fought several wars, but their shared border has been mostly quiet since a 1974 cease-fire. Still, Israel worries that Syria's civil war could spill across into the Golan, and repeated errant fire has intensified that concern.

Israeli air strikes in early May destroyed a Syrian weapons warehouse where Iranian missiles allegedly being kept, destined, according to the Israelis, for the Islamic militant group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Assad's forces in the Syrian war.