JERUSALEM — Israeli warplanes and missiles struck nine Syrian military positions early Monday in retaliation for an earlier cross-border attack that killed a 14-year-old boy and wounded three other civilians in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, according to the Israel Defense Forces and news agency reports.
The Israeli bombardment hit Syrian military command centers and launching positions, according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces and news agency accounts. The attack involved both Tamuz-guided missiles and military jets, according to Israeli press reports.
“Direct hits were confirmed,” the Israeli military said in its statement.
There was no immediate word on casualties from the post-midnight strikes inside Syria and the extent of damage inflicted.
But the attacks appeared to be among the most extensive that Israel has launched to date on Syrian territory since the Syrian conflict broke out more than three years ago.
The incident also raised the prospect of a more robust Israeli involvement in the raging Syrian conflict, a proxy war in which rebels supported by the United States and its allies are fighting to oust the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Assad’s government is backed by Iran, Israel’s regional rival. The armed Syrian opposition has repeatedly denied Syrian government allegations that Israel has provided direct assistance to rebels fighting to oust Assad.
Israel is reported to have launched at least half a dozen airstrikes in the last 18 months against military targets inside Syria. Israeli officials have generally not publicly confirmed the previous attacks, which have been confirmed by U.S. and Syrian officials.
But on Monday, Israel acknowledged the retaliatory strikes. The official statement said the action was in response to the cross-border incident Sunday that killed the 14-year-old boy and wounded three others, including the boy’s father, in the Golan Heights. Israeli authorities initially described the earlier attack as an “explosion,” possibly from mortar fire or a planted bomb.
“Yesterday’s attack was an unprovoked act of aggression against Israel, and a direct continuation to recent attacks that occurred in the area,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, in a statement. “The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to breach Israel’s sovereignty and will act in order to safeguard the civilians of the state of Israel.”
Earlier, Israel had said that the Golan Heights attack “targeted an Israeli civilian vehicle.” News agency reports indicated that an anti-tank projectile fired from within Syria struck near the border fence. The teenage victim was sitting in a truck with his father, who was doing maintenance work on the fence for the Israeli Defense Ministry along with two other contract workers, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
The incident was “not a case of errant fire, but of an intentional attack,” the Israeli military said in its statement.
Shells from the Syrian conflict have occasionally landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But Sunday’s incident was reportedly the first time that someone had been killed on the Israeli side of the disputed frontier.
It was never publicly clarified whether the Syrian military or anti-government rebels were behind the explosion that killed the teenager. Both the Syrian army and insurgents are active on the Syrian side.
In an initial response, Israeli tanks fired Sunday at Syrian government targets inside Syria, news agencies reported. Those shelling attacks were followed early Monday by the Israeli strikes on nine Syrian military targets.
There was no immediate reaction from Syrian authorities.
Israel seized the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau, from Syria during the 1967 war.
The frontier zone, patrolled by United Nations peacekeepers, was relatively calm for decades until the Syrian conflict broke out and anti-government rebels, including some linked to al-Qaida, began battling Syrian government forces in the zone. Syrian rebels have on several occasions kidnapped U.N. peacekeepers in the area, but all U.N. personnel have been later released safely.
(Special correspondent Sobelman reported from Jerusalem and staff writer McDonnell from Beirut.)