The Syrian army came dangerously close to the Israeli border on Thursday as it tried to carry out an unsuccessful airstrike on the rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Al-Assad.
Reports in the Syrian media indicated that the army launched an airstrike on a rebel stronghold in the town of Elhara, which is located just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border with Israel. The strike took place in the dawn hours on Thursday. Elhara is a point of strategic importance for the Syrian army, which is struggling to hold on to southern Syria.
Syrian media reported that the army was able to surround the city from three directions over the past several days and launched a massive attack on the town on Thursday at around 6:00 a.m. Infantry and armored forces reportedly began storming the town, assisted by the artillery. In addition, ground-to-ground missiles were fired. Syrian aircraft bombed rebel targets in the town.
The result of the attack remains unclear, however. According to reports, the rebels were prepared in advance for the attack, and fighting continued all day on Thursday. The Syrian forces reportedly began to withdraw from the town shortly before dusk. The battle resulted in two destroyed tanks belonging to the Syrian army and many Syrian soldiers were killed.
Israel reportedly picked up on the operations near the border and Israeli Air Force jets were scrambled to the area in case the fighting got too close to Israeli territory.
Also on Thursday, Syrian rebels claimed they successfully attacked a convoy that included a vehicle in which Assad was riding. In a statement, broadcast on Al-Arabiya television, a rebel spokesperson said that the attack happened in Damascus, and that the convoy had been hit by a large explosive.
However, live images of Assad attending services in a mosque in Damascus were later shown. The claim that the images were live could not immediately be confirmed, Western analysts said, although they added that it was not uncommon for Assad to send out “phony” presidential convoys in which he himself did not ride, but could be targets for attack.
On Wednesday, Syrian troops killed at least 62 rebels in an ambush near Damascus.
The Syrian military said those killed were members of the jihadist Al-Nusra Front.
Al-Nusra Front has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Members of the group, as well as other Syrian rebel groups, have committed atrocities during the Syrian civil war, including publicly beheading a Catholic priest who was accused of collaborating with Assad’s regime.