Syrian rebels capture sole border crossing between Israel and Syria in Golan Heights
BEIRUT — Syrian rebels claimed control of the only border crossing between Syria and Israel on Wednesday, extending a series of gains in the strategically sensitive Golan Heights in recent days.
The capture of the crossing point is of greater symbolic than strategic significance for the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, given the decades-old state of war that has prevailed between Israel and Syria.
It does, however, consolidate rebel control over Syria’s border with Israel and potentially puts extremists on Israel’s doorstep. The al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra was among the rebel groups that participated in the battle for the crossing, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Others included more moderate groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, notably battalions belonging to the southern branch of the Syrian Revolutionary Front, which has received U.S. support.
The radical Islamic State group was not involved in the takeover of the crossing. The group, which has stirred worldwide alarm with its sweep across northern Syria and Iraq in recent months, is not known to have a presence in the Golan area.
Stray fire from the fierce battles lightly wounded an Israeli army officer on the other side of the border, but Israel had no immediate comment on the capture of the crossing. Israel seized control of the Golan Heights in 1967, leaving only a sliver of the area under Syrian control.
A video posted by the Syrian Revolutionary Front showing smoke rising from the barren Golan Heights identified Jabhat al-Nusra as the group leading the battle for the crossing point.
A later video purportedly showed rebels celebrating their control of the empty crossing point and the empty road leading into the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan.