For the first time in the Syrian civil war, al-Qaida fighters are hunkered down on Israel’s doorstep, and Israelis in the lush, hilly Golan Heights who have long considered Syrian President Bashar Assad their bitter foe are now worried about something more ominous – that they could become the militants’ next target.
The push into the Golan by the Nusra Front, as al-Qaida’s branch in Syria is known, comes just two weeks after Israel ended a 50-day war against Hamas on its southern border with the Gaza Strip, giving the conflict-weary nation another cause for concern.
Israelis in the Golan have grown accustomed to hearing the sound of distant battles between rival forces in Syria’s civil war.
But last week’s seizure of the strategic Quneitra border crossing by a mix of rebels – including the Nusra Front, Free Syrian Army fighters and others – who expelled Assad’s forces from the area and abducted 45 U.N. peacekeepers in the process has created an unprecedented situation that has brought the extremists to within just a few meters (yards) of Israeli positions.
The Syrian government is “not our cup of tea,” said Gabi Kuniel, an Israeli who tends vineyards recently damaged by mortar shells when the violence spilled over to the Israeli-held side of the border in the Golan.
But “we prefer that the Syrian army controls this region and not a group of radical al-Qaida Muslim people,” he said Wednesday, sitting behind a concrete structure near his fields to stay out of the line of fire.
As he spoke, heavy machine gunfire could be heard in the distance. Earlier, a plume of smoke rose from the Syrian side of the border fence.
Read More:News from The Associated Press.