Israeli airstrike kills 'IS militants' trying to cross into occupied Golan Heights
An Israeli airstrike has killed seven militants believed to be linked to the Islamic State group and seeking to infiltrate the country from the Syrian Golan Heights, the army said Thursday.
The military carried out the missile strike late on Wednesday after the militants crossed a ceasefire line and came within a few hundred metres of the fence in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, spokesman Jonathan Conricus told journalists.
An Israeli aircraft "struck those seven suspects, and today in searches that have been completed on the ground by Israeli troops we found seven bodies in that location, we found five AK-47 assault rifles, we found explosive vests as well as what appears to be grenades," Conricus said.
A Syrian offensive in the country's south has resulted in IS-affiliated groups scattering in the area, Conricus said.
Israeli forces monitored the militants' movements before carrying out the strike, he said.
"Had they been able to continue, they would have come to the Israeli security fence," Conricus said.
He said Israeli forces believed they were on a "terrorist mission" and "trying to infiltrate into Israel."
"It did not seem as if they were fleeing, seeking refuge," Conricus said. "It seems as if they were moving in a combat formation, with combat equipment."
He declined to say specifically where they were located, but said it was in the southern Golan, near the Jordanian border.
Initial findings show they were linked to IS but it remains unconfirmed, said Conricus.
Conricus said there had been no coordination with Syria or Russia before the strike, adding that Israel was well within the bounds of a 1974 ceasefire agreement for the area in carrying it out.
Israel has sought to remain out of direct involvement in Syria's civil war, but it admits carrying out dozens of air strikes there to stop what it says are deliveries of advanced weaponry to its Lebanese enemy Hizballah.
It has also pledged to prevent its arch foe Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria and a series of recent strikes that have killed Iranians in Syria have been attributed to Israel.
Separately, United Nations peacekeepers returned on Thursday to patrol the frontier between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for the first time in years, Russia's Defense Ministry announced – Moscow's latest achievement in efforts to negotiate a solution to the crisis along the volatile border.
The development also marked the first time that Russian forces, a major ally of the Damascus government, were involved in the patrols.
The peacekeeping mission was halted back in 2014 amid the violence in Syrian's civil war over security concerns.
Israel sees benefits in Assad gains
On Thursday, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said gains by President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the Syrian civil war present advantages for Israel even though the two countries remain technically at war.
"In Syria, as far as we are concerned, the situation is returning to the previous one before the civil war, meaning there is a clear address, there is responsibility and there is a central government," Lieberman told journalists while visiting Israeli air defences.
Before the civil war erupted in 2011, the ceasefire line between Syria and Israel was largely quiet for years.
A series of blistering offensives backed by Moscow and Tehran has forced the rebels out of many of their strongholds, putting Assad's government back in control of nearly two-thirds of the country.
"We do not interfere or intervene in Syria's internal affairs," Lieberman said.
"But this is provided that all three points that are important to us are fulfilled."
He named them as a strict observance of a 1974 armistice with Syria, not allowing Iran to use Syria as a front against Israel and not allowing Syria to be used as a transit point for advanced arms deliveries to Hizballah.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
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