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Israel faces rocket attacks from Gaza, Syria

Israel faced the prospect of stepped-up military action on two fronts yesterday as rockets fired from Gaza hit southern communities for the third straight day, and the army said it shelled a Syrian artillery battery after a stray shell landed near one of its posts in the Golan Heights.

The attack on the mobile artillery battery was the first time that Israeli forces had engaged Syrian troops across the Golan frontier since the 1973 Middle East war, and it ratcheted up tensions across a cease-fire line that has been quiet for decades.

On Sunday, the Israeli army said it fired a guided antitank missile into Syria as a warning after the landing of another errant shell that had been fired in fighting between Syrian troops and rebels. The Israeli responses followed several recent incidents in which stray munitions from the clashes in Syria had fallen in Israeli-held territory.

The renewed firing yesterday heightened concerns that the Syrian conflict could draw in Israeli forces on the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau taken by Israel from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. The fighting in Syria has led to sporadic clashes on the country’s borders with Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, raising fears that it could trigger wider regional conflict.

Yesterday, Syrian jets bombed a rebel-held town along the Turkish border, killing more than a dozen people. Also yesterday, a new umbrella organization for Syrian opposition groups was recognized by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, the first formal endorsement the group has received.

An Israeli army statement on yesterday’s Golan incident said that a shell fired “as part of the internal conflict inside Syria” landed harmlessly in an open area near an army outpost in the central Golan Heights – the same post hit by a stray mortar shell Sunday.

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