Tensions with Syria Escalate As Two Israelis Die in Lebanon

Tensions between Israel and Syria escalated this week amid reports that Israel planned to drill for oil on the Golan Heights.

At the same time, ongoing hostilities heated up in southern Lebanon, where two Israeli soldiers were killed and five others were wounded in a Hezbollah attack.

Maj. Ori Azulai, 25, of Kiryat Shmona, and Staff Sgt. Tom Karin, 20, of Kibbutz Ein Gev, were killed early last Friday morning, when their paratroop patrol detonated four roadside charges that were set by the Islamic fundamentalist group.

Azulai and Karin were buried Sunday.

The head of the Israel Defense Force northern command, Maj. Gen. Amiram Levine, said hostilities in southern Lebanon had heated up ever since Lebanon concluded its parliamentary elections in September.

“We are talking about two or three clashes a day,” Levine said.

Meanwhile, the situation with Syria remained tense after reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had given the go-ahead for exploratory oil drills on the Golan Heights.

In Damascus, the Syrian daily Tishrin said, “The green light Netanyahu has given for an oil drill on the Golan brings with it a dangerous deterioration of the situation. This is a threat to security, peace and stability in the region.”

In response to the recent reports, Israel’s Infrastructure Ministry issued a statement denying plans for any drilling on the Golan.

The statement said that because of a government decision to privatize the Israel Oil Exploration company, all plans for new drilling had been frozen, including on the Golan Heights.

The situation with Syria has grown increasingly tense since Syrian troops moved into offensive positions in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in September.

Israeli intelligence officials have said Syrian President Hafez Assad may consider military action to try to force the stalled political process forward.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who met Sunday with opposition leader Shimon Peres, said he did not believe that Syria was planning any military action against-Israel.

Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel wanted to resume discussions with Damascus.

“We have offered to return to the peace negotiations and that offer stands,” Netanyahu said during a tour of naval forces. “We are waiting for Syria’s response.”

Israeli-Syrian talks were suspended in March after Assad refused to condemn a series of Hamas suicide bombings carried out in in Israel.

Chances for renewal of the talks dimmed with the election victory in May of Netanyahu, who has stated that he would not consider an Israeli pullback on the Golan, which was captured from Syria in 1967.

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