Diplomacy & defense

Israeli army exercise on the Golan Heights near the border with Syria, June 23, 2016
Attack was in response to earlier fire on Israeli troops near border

The Israeli Air Force struck an Islamic State held target in the southern Syrian Golan Heights early Monday morning in response to an attack on Israeli soldiers near the Syrian border on Sunday. 

According to the IDF spokesperson, the attack targeted an abandoned military facility that was previously used by the United Nations and served as a location for Islamic State to consolidate their offensive forces and operations near the border.

"The IDF will continue to act to protect the citizens of Israel while maintaining the IDF's freedom of action within the sovereign territory of Israel, and will not hesitate to act against the terrorist organizations operating against it."

Israeli forces killed four gunmen linked to the Islamic State group after they fired on soldiers Sunday, the military said, in the first such attack on the Golan Heights.

The Israeli soldiers were targeted with machinegun fire and mortars and they shot back, before the air force bombed the vehicle carrying the gunmen identified as members of "Shuhada al-Yarmouk, an IS affiliate", said spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.

Since the beginning of the internal Syrian conflict in 2011, stray fire from government and rebel forces has hit Israel, as have attacks by the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah and its affiliates.

Sunday's clash marked the first time Syria-based jihadists opened fire on Israeli soldiers on territory under Israeli control, according to a retired general, but probably did not mark a change in the strategy of the IS group.

"A direct attack like that on Israeli activities on Israeli side of border -- this is the first time," reserves general Nitzan Nuriel told reporters.

Nuriel said Israel has a policy of preventive action that it uses from time to time in the "grey zone" -- the term he used to describe "pockets between the security fence along the border and the official (demarcation line) between us and our neighbors."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the soldiers who "successfully repelled an attempted attack on the convergence point of three borders".

"Our forces are prepared on our northern border, and we won't let IS elements or other hostile elements use the cover of the war in Syria to establish themselves next to our borders," he said in remarks relayed by his office.

While avoiding being drawn into the internal Syrian conflict, Israel attacks Syrian military targets when fire, even unintentional, spills over the demarcation line.

The Israeli army holds the Syrian government accountable for any fire from its territory, regardless of the source.

Staff with agencies

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