JERUSALEM (AP) — Militants in Syria fired several rockets into northern Israel on Thursday afternoon, prompting Israeli retaliatory fire, the military said — the first time since the 1973 Mideast war that rockets from Syrian territory have slammed into Israel.
A total of four rockets exploded in an open field in northern Galilee, where sirens warned residents of the incoming projectiles. The rockets sparked small fires but caused no injuries.
The Israeli military said it responded to the attack by targeting 14 Syrian military posts in the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. Despite constant hostility between the two countries, Syria’s leaders have been careful to keep the border mostly quiet since the 1973 war, though Syria’s conflict has renewed tensions in the Golan Heights.
Israel’s military said the rockets were fired by the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad group. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
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Israel also said it holds the Syrian government responsible for attacks emanating from Syria. Sporadic mortar shells and gunfire have hit Israel on several occasions since the Syrian conflict broke out in 2011, but this was the first time rockets were used.
In southern Syria, an opposition activist said Israeli tanks fired at least four shells at Syrian army and pro-government positions. The activist, who goes by the name of Abu Omar al-Golani, said the shells hit near the Syrian town of Baath and the village of Khan Arnabeh.
Syria’s state run news agency SANA later said that an Israeli helicopter fired several missiles inside Syria, targeting the governorate building in Quneitra but that the strikes caused only material damage.
Israel and Syria are bitter enemies, and Israel has avoided taking sides in the Syrian civil war, which pits President Bashar Assad’s government against an array of militants, including the brutal Islamic State group, which has imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, on the parts of Syria and Iraq it now controls.
Still, Israel provides free medical treatment at Israeli hospitals for Syrians wounded in the fighting that reach its frontier.
Israel has responded occasionally to attacks from Syria. It says some of the attacks have been accidental spillover from the conflict next door while others have been intentionally aimed at Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Later Thursday, an Israeli military official speaking anonymously in line with protocol said that an Iranian military commander “orchestrated the attack.”
“The attack was a clearly intentional one,” he said.
“For us this is a clear act of aggression meant by the Iranians to use the chaos in Syria to escalate tensions in the region,” he said.
Iran is Israel’s archenemy and a main backer of Syrian President Assad.
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.