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Israeli army launches strikes in Syria after rocket fire

Israel launched artillery strikes on Syria Sunday morning, the Israeli army announced, after several rockets were fired from there and landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

This picture taken early on April 7, 2023 shows explosions in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli air strikes on the Palestinian enclave. (Photo by Yousef MASOUD / AFP)

Israel launched artillery strikes on Syria Sunday morning, the Israeli army announced, after several rockets were fired from there and landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Israel’s retaliatory strike to rocket attacks from Syria — which no one has claimed — is the latest episode in escalating violence in the region.

“In response to the rockets fired from Syria at Israel earlier today, IDF Artillery is currently striking in Syrian territory,” the military tweeted.

A drone was also “currently striking the launchers in Syria from which rockets were launched into Israeli territory”.

Six rockets were launched towards Israel Saturday night, with two landing in the Golan Heights, the army said. At least one was intercepted by the Israeli air-defence system.

The 1,200 square kilometre (460 square mile) region — patrolled by Israeli soldiers and bordering Lebanon — was seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel later annexed it in a move that was never recognised by the international community.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the Israeli strikes took place around 5:00 am (0200 GMT).

Citing an unnamed military source, SANA said Syria’s military had “intercepted the rockets… and brought down some of them”.

The surge in violence and unrest comes as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Jewish Passover, and Christian Easter coincide.

On Wednesday, Israeli police stormed the prayer hall of Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, in a pre-dawn raid aimed at dislodging “law-breaking youths masked agitators” they said had barricaded themselves inside.

The next day, more than 30 rockets were fired from Lebanese soil into Israel, which the Israeli army blamed on Palestinian groups, saying it was most likely Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

Israel then bombarded Gaza and southern Lebanon, targeting “terror infrastructures” that it said belonged to Hamas.

It was the biggest salvo fired from Lebanon since Israel fought a devastating 34-day war with Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah in 2006 and the first time Israel has confirmed an attack on Lebanese territory since April 2022.

Israel and Lebanon are technically in a state of war, and the ceasefire line is patrolled by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), deployed in the country’s south.

On the Syrian side, Israel has recently intensified its raids targeting positions of pro-Iranian groups.

Violence in Israel
On Friday evening, an Italian tourist was killed and seven other people injured in a suspected car-ramming attack on pedestrians on the Tel Aviv seafront.

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the police to “mobilise all reserve border police units”.

He also directed the army to “mobilise additional forces”, his office said.

Earlier Friday, two British-Israeli sisters aged 16 and 20 were killed and their mother seriously wounded when their car was fired on in the Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Police said four reserve battalions of border police would be deployed in city centres from Sunday.

The defence ministry confirmed late Saturday it had mobilised soldiers to support the police, and that it would tighten entry restrictions into Israel for Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, in particular workers.

High tensions
The current fever pitch follows violence on Wednesday, when Israeli riot police stormed the prayer hall of Al-Aqsa mosque in a pre-dawn raid.

Ramadan coincided with the Jewish Passover holiday this year, raising tensions with the tens of thousands of Palestinians who pray at Al-Aqsa during the Muslim fasting month.

The Palestinians fear Netanyahu’s hard-right government may change longstanding rules that allow Jews to visit but not pray in the mosque compound, despite his repeated denials.

Since the beginning of January, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has claimed the lives of at least 92 Palestinians, 18 Israelis, one Ukrainian and one Italian, according to an AFP count based on Israeli and Palestinian official sources.

These figures include, on the Palestinian side, combatants and civilians, including minors, and on the Israeli side, mostly civilians, including minors, and three members of the Arab minority.

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