Israel fears potential Syrian Islamist attacks

Updated: 2012-08-06 06:54


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JERUSALEM - Israel is increasingly concerned that extremist Islamists actively involved in Syria's conflicts may ultimately turn their weapons against Israeli targets, security officials said Sunday.

Israeli intelligence agencies monitoring the situation across the northern border in recent weeks have noticed the growing involvement of al-Qaida-affiliated cells, as well as other groups linked to the global jihad movement, in the fighting against the Syrian regime, the Ha'aretz newspaper reported Sunday.

These groups are estimated to number several thousand fighters from Iraq, Jordan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, who have pledged their loyalty to the rebels' Free Syria Army, as an unknown number of fighters have been killed in fighting against the government forces across Syria, Ha'aretz said.

According to the report, security officials here are reviewing a scenario in which members of these groups will attempt to launch actions against Israel in the near future in a bid to coax Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into a confrontation with Israel.

A more troubling scenario is that the militants will exploit the security vacuum in a post-Assad era to strike roots and turn Syria into a global jihad stronghold, the report said.

In a sign that an offensive against Israel may be under way, Israeli troops on Saturday opened fire on a Syrian citizen who attempted to breach the border fence in southern Golan Heights.

The military said its soldiers acted in accordance with the rules of engagement, firing at the man after he did not respond to their calls to turn back and continued cutting the barbed wire fence.

A military spokeswoman told Xinhua that the man was hit in the knee and was carried off the scene by others.

"There were several attempts to breach the border over the past couple of weeks. Such incidents are a violation of Israeli sovereignty and we view them with severity," she said.

An officer deployed in the area told Ha'aretz the assumption is that "anyone who reaches the fence and sabotages it is not peaceful."

"It could be someone making an opening to be used to reach an Israeli community, or it could be someone checking the vigilance of forces in the area and gathering intelligence for a future attack," he said.