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Israeli army denies vehicle destroyed by Syrian fire

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Israel's army and Syrian forces exchanged fire across the sensitive ceasefire line on the Golan Heights on Tuesday, but the Jewish state denied 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 in the Golan Heights during the incident.

"On Tuesday at 1:10 am (2100 GMT Monday), our armed forces destroyed an Israeli vehicle with everything it was carrying, which came from the occupied territories," said the Syrian army in a statement carried by state media.

"The vehicle passed the ceasefire line and was moving towards the village of Bir-Ajam situated in the liberated Syrian zone" of the Golan, it said, adding that the operation was aimed at "lifting the morale" of rebel forces in the region.

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.

"Overnight, shots were fired at an IDF patrol on the border in the central Golan Heights, damaging a military vehicle," said a statement on the army's website. No one was wounded, it added.

"In response, IDF forces returned precise fire at the source of the gunfire. They reported a direct hit," the statement added.

"The IDF views the recent incidents in the north with concern and has lodged a complaint with UNDOF," the UN Disengagement Force responsible for patrolling that area.

Adraee emphasised on his Twitter account that only "light damage" had been sustained from the Syrian fire.

On Monday too, the army reported that small-arms fire from Syria hit the Israeli-occupied Golan overnight, causing no harm or damage. The army also filed a complaint with the UN force on that occasion.

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 region to date, with Syrian shells crashing in the occupied Golan and Israel firing in retaliation.

In recent weeks there were four incidents of fire coming from Syria and straying across the ceasefire line.

Last week projectiles from Syria hit Mount Hermon, causing the popular site on the Golan to close down to visitors.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Tuesday 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's Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, who visited Golan on Tuesday morning, told local media: "Not a day goes past that we don't have to have a decision which could lead to a sudden and uncontrollable deterioration to the security situation."

And daily Maariv reported an Israeli commander in the north of the country as warning that "if one of these shells causes an (Israeli) casualty, the response will be different."

The US State Department warned on Monday that the occupation of villages along the Lebanese-Syrian border by Lebanon's Shiite movement Hezbollah "inflamed regional sectarian tensions."

Israel launched air raids inside Syria this month targeting what sources said were arms destined for its arch-foe Hezbollah, whose members have joined the fight against rebels alongside the Syrian military.

The strikes ramped up regional tension, with Syria threatening to hit back.

In a separate incident on Tuesday, Israel's army also said an injured Syrian was taken overnight to a hospital in the north of Israel after crossing the ceasefire line into the country.

A number of Syrians wounded from the fighting next door have been treated in Israeli hospitals over the past few months, before being repatriated.

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.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130521/israeli-army-denies-vehicle-destroyed-syrian-fire-0