Syrian troops caught inside Israel

Thursday, January 9, 2003

TEL AVIV Syrian troops fired on an Israeli military unit in the Golan Heights in the first such incident in years.

Israeli officials said Syrian soldiers opened fire on an Israeli commando force during a clash with infiltrators in the southern Golan Heights on Wednesday. The officials said Syrian soldiers entered Israel and encountered an Israeli unit in a border area where Israel, Jordan and Syria meet, Middle East Newsline reported.

"One of our infantry patrols on our side of the border was fired upon," Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon said. "It returned fire, killing one armed man and captured another armed man who surrendered."

Israeli military sources provided the following account. They said that two men wearing Syrian army uniforms and armed with AK-47 assault rifles crossed into Israel. The infiltrators were soon spotted by an elite Egoz infantry unit.

The Israeli soldiers opened fire, killing one Syrian and wounding another. The sources said at that point Syrian soldiers nearby opened fire on the Israeli force. Nobody was wounded.

"Some of the [Syrian] soldiers opened fire on our forces," Brig.Gen. Avi Mizrachi, head of Israeli forces on the Golan Heights, said. "We did not respond."

The sources said three other men in Syrian army uniforms were on the other side of the border preparing to enter when the infiltrators were discovered. The Israeli force did not cross the Syrian border, the sources said.

Officials said this was the first time in decades that Syrian soldiers fired into Israel from the Golan Heights. The two countries have observed a United Nations ceasefire accord since 1974.

In Damascus, a Syrian government communique acknowledged the firefight along the border with Israel. But the official statement said the Syrian border police officers were searching for water and did not enter Israeli territory.

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