by News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Terrorist cell eliminated just 200 meters from Syria-Israel border fence • Israeli troops recover explosive belts, assault rifle nearby
An Israeli airstrike on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights border has eliminated seven terrorists, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said Thursday.
According to available information, Israeli Air Force aircraft were scrambled to target the cell after its members were spotted approaching the security fence. Israeli troops later found several explosive belts and an AK-47 assault rifle near the border.
According to Manelis, the terrorists were identified as members of the Islamic State terrorist organization and were hit a mere "200 meters from the border fence."
Manelis stressed that "at no point was there any threat to any [Israeli] soldiers or communities. We had them at a far enough distance from the border that they posed no threat to the troops, and certainly not to communities.
"The IDF remains on high alert and is ready to defend the Israeli public."
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitoring group, said early Thursday that clashes were continuing between the Syrian army and Islamic State militants in that area.
There was no immediate Syrian government response to the Israeli statements.
Commenting on the recent developments in Syria, where Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces are now again in control of the area near the Israeli border, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Syria's return to its pre-civil war situation was "a given."
Lieberman also predicted that the Golan Heights frontier would be calmer with Assad's rule restored.
Before the Syrian civil war began in 2011 and throughout the seven years of fighting, Israel and Syria have mostly been careful to observe the 1974 cease-fire agreement between them.
The conflict has seen several small flare-ups between the two enemy states, but both have sought to contain tensions.
"From our perspective, the situation is returning to how it was before the civil war, meaning there is someone in charge, a central ruler," Lieberman told reporters.
Asked whether Israelis should be less wary of potential flare-ups on the Golan, he said, "I believe so."
But he then qualified that with, "We remain ready and willing and we will prove our abilities at the moment of truth. We will not compromise when it comes to our security interests."
Israel has been adamant about preventing Assad's ally, Iran, from entrenching itself militarily in Syria. Russia, the superpower that sided with Assad in 2015, effectively ensuring his survival, has presented Israel with guarantees that Iranian-backed forces will remain 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the border.
Israel insists this measure still falls short and demands the removal of all the Iranian-backed forces from Syria, something Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has called "unrealistic."
Lieberman stressed Thursday that "Syrian soil cannot be used as an Iranian front against Israel and Syria cannot be used as a conduit for weapons smuggling to Hezbollah."
He reiterated his assessment that, with Assad firmly back in power, the Golan Heights border will once again be calm, saying, "He [Assad] knows what will happen otherwise. It's in his interest [to keep the border calm] and he will have to make his own considerations."
Commenting on the tensions on the Israel-Gaza Strip border, Lieberman said that Hamas has been using children to send incendiary balloons over the border into Israel, and its operative have been using civilian homes and venues as cover for the terrorist cells.
The Palestinian arson campaign has been wreaking havoc on Israeli border towns for three months and has caused millions of dollars in damage.
Residents of Israeli communities near the Gaza border, as well as several cabinet ministers, have demanded that the government handle kite terrorist cells with the same lethal force it does rocket launching cells. But top defense officials have been wary of such a move, saying that directly targeting kite and balloon cells, which mostly comprise teenagers and children, would lead the already volatile situation on the border to spiral out of control.
"We have to targets those [Hamas leaders] who give the flaming balloons cells their orders, not the pawns," Lieberman said.
Also on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a trip to Colombia planned for next week due to the situation around the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu had been scheduled to visit the Latin American country from Aug. 6-9 to attend the inauguration ceremony of President-elect Ivan Duque Marquez.
Numerous Latin American states are expected to attend the Aug. 7 ceremony in Bogota. Netanyahu was expected to hold a series of meetings with the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras, Argentina and Chile, among others, in an effort to bolster Israel's standing in the region.
News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
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