Syria targeted Israeli jeep going to rebel village

May 24, 2013 - 2:35 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Syria said it targeted an Israeli vehicle that crossed a ceasefire line into its territory earlier this week because it was heading toward a village with a large rebel presence.

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council circulated Friday, Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said his country exercised its right to self-defense and would respond immediately to any other violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Syria accused Israel of violating the U.N. Charter and the separation of forces agreement that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when it sent the vehicle into Syrian territory and launched two missiles on Tuesday. He said Syria expects the Security Council "to put an end to Israel's violations."

Israel said an Israeli jeep came under fire during an overnight patrol on its side of the cease-fire line in the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau which Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and later annexed. Syria has demanded its return.

Syria claimed it destroyed the vehicle, but Israel said the jeep suffered only minor damage and no one was hurt. Israel said it returned fire at the source and scored a "direct hit."

Since the Syrian civil war broke out in March 2011, there has been growing concern of spillover across the tense border with Israel. The incident Tuesday was the latest in which gunfire and mortar shells have struck the Israeli side of the Golan in recent months. Israel believes that most of the fire has been incidental spillover from the Syrian conflict, but that several cases, including Tuesday's, were intentional.

In his letter, Ja'afari said that at 1:10 a.m. on May 21, "an Israeli vehicle crossed the cease-fire line and proceeded towards the village of Bi'r Ajam, which is located in the liberated area of the Golan within the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic."

"The presence of armed terrorist groups in that village led the Syrian armed forces to target the above-mentioned Israeli vehicle," he said.

Syria refers to opposition fighters as "terrorists."

Ja'afari reiterated Syria's claim that Israel is interfering in Syria's internal affairs "through its provision of logistical support for armed terrorist groups in Syria, including those that are active in the area of separation of forces."

Israel's air force chief, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, warned Wednesday that tensions with Syria could escalate into a "surprise war" and that Israel needs to be ready. He said Russian S-300 air defense systems are "on their way" to Syria, though Israel asked Russia not to supply the advanced air defense system to Syria.