Israel on Sunday attacked Syrian military radar and artillery positions after two barrages of rockets were fired at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in a further escalation of an already-tense security deterioration.
A small Palestinian militia based in Syria called the Al Quds Brigade claimed responsibility after two projectiles landed in open areas inside the Israeli-occupied plateau.
Earlier, Israel used drones to attack the rocket launchers that were used and shelled the area from which the rockets were fired. An adviser to Syrian president Bashar Assad described the rocket strikes as “part of the previous, present and continuing response to the brutal enemy”.
The rocket fire came on the heels of two lethal attacks over the Israeli weekend in the middle of the Passover holiday. On Friday, presumed Palestinian assailants opened fire from close range on an Israeli civilian vehicle in the West Bank, killing two sisters – who were buried on Sunday – and critically wounding their mother. Later that evening, an Arab citizen of Israel killed an Italian tourist and wounded several other tourists in a car-ramming attack on the Tel Aviv promenade. Earlier on Friday, rockets were fired into Israel from south Lebanon and Gaza.
In response to growing criticism that the security situation was spinning out of control, the army sent reinforcements to the West Bank. The closure imposed by the military at the start of the Passover holiday, preventing West Bank and Gaza Palestinians from entering Israel, was extended for the duration of the eight-day holiday. Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu ordered the mobilisation of all reserve border police units.
The catalyst for the latest surge in violence was clashes at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City on the flashpoint Haram Al-Sharif Noble Sanctuary, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount – the holiest site in Judaism.
Thousands of police were in and around the Old City on Sunday as thousands of Christian pilgrims marked Easter, Jews visited the Temple Mount to mark Passover and Muslims observed the holy month of Ramadan.
Mr Netanyahu was voted back into office in November in part due to his promise to end the wave of attacks against civilians that began during the previous government’s tenure. However, the performance of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history to date has been significantly worse than that of their predecessors.
According to Israeli security sources the probability of a multiple-arena conflict breaking out has increased. Israel believes Iran is trying to ratchet up hostilities in all sectors and has succeeded in turning militant Palestinian groups into proxies similar to Hizbullah in south Lebanon.
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Beirut on Sunday and the two men vowed to co-ordinate further “resistance” efforts.
Mr Netanyahu reportedly told ministers at the security cabinet meeting over the weekend that he sought to avoid wider conflicts on multiple fronts.
“There are enough disputes within us on other issues, we are being challenged from everywhere – in the opposition and on the street,” Mr Netanyahu was quoted as saying at the meeting by Channel 12, in reference to months of protests and the intense public criticism over a planned judicial overhaul which critics claim will undermine democracy.
After receiving a security briefing from Mr Netanyahu on Sunday, opposition leader Yair Lapid said Israel was losing its deterrence, along with the support of the US and the international community. He said far-right ministers in the security cabinet could not be trusted and he called on Mr Netanyahu to set up a smaller forum to take key security decisions and to announce publicly that he was rescinding his decision to fire defence minister Yoav Gallant.
For the second consecutive week, protests took place in Tel Aviv and other locations despite the government ordering a “pause” in the passage of the legislation in order for a dialogue to take place, mediated by President Yitzhak Herzog, to seek a possible compromise.
In a separate development the prime minister’s office has described as “false and unfounded” reports in the New York Times and Washington Post, based on a leaked Pentagon memo, claiming the Mossad spy agency encouraged its members to participate in the weekly mass protests against the government’s controversial judicial overhaul.