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Syria, Israel exchange fire on Golan Heights

Troops claim they destroyed an Israeli vehicle that crossed over into Syrian territory.

Syria troops destroy an Israeli vehicle that crossed over into it’s territory from Golan Heights. Picture: AFP

BEIRUT - Syria said its troops destroyed an Israeli vehicle that crossed into its territory from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Tuesday and warned that any attempt to violate its sovereignty would meet "immediate and firm retaliation".

Israel said the incident took place on its side of the Golan ceasefire line that the vehicle was damaged but not destroyed, none of its soldiers were hurt and they returned fire.

The clash highlighted the potential for renewed conflict along a frontline that has become increasingly fraught after nearly four decades of calm overseen by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his father.

It also followed Israeli airstrikes near Damascus against suspected missile stockpiles two weeks ago, after which Syria threatened to retaliate.

Assad is battling a two-year-old uprising in which rebel forces, including radical Islamists, have taken swathes of rural territory and attacked army posts near the Golan frontier.

There are frequent reports of cross-border gunfire from Syria during clashes between army and rebel forces but Tuesday's incident was the first time since the start of the crisis that Syria's armed forces said they targeted Israel's military.

"Our noble armed forces destroyed an Israeli vehicle ... which entered from the occupied territories and crossed the ceasefire line," Syria's military leadership said in a statement broadcast on state media. The incident occurred at 1:10 am, it said.

Shortly afterwards, Israeli forces fired two rockets towards a Syrian position, without causing any casualties, Syria said.

The Israeli military's chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, said the Israeli army vehicle had been patrolling on the Israeli side of a border fence when it came under repeated fire.

"They fire on it once. They fire on it twice. They fire on it a third time, from a clear Syrian position," he said in a speech. "One time, okay. Two times, okay. Three times, too many. The position was destroyed."

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said: "Our policy on Syria is clear: We are not intervening there, of course, in the civil war ... But as for the situation in the Golan Heights, we are not allowing and we will not permit a spill over of fire into our territory."