JERUSALEM • Reports of unprecedented clashes between Israel and Iran over Syria have sparked calls for restraint from world leaders worried about the risk of all-out war, even as both sides say they want to avoid a regional conflict.
All eyes were on any fresh military activity yesterday, after Israel carried out widespread deadly raids against what it said were Iranian targets in Syria on Thursday in response to rocket fire towards its forces that it blamed on Iran.
The exchange of fire came after weeks of rising tensions and followed United States President Donald Trump's decision on Tuesday to withdraw from the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a move Israel had long sought.
The bombardment led to calls for calm from Russia, France, Germany and Britain as well as the European Union, while the US put the blame squarely on Iran and stressed Israel's right to "self-defence".
United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon said yesterday they were keeping a close eye on the southern border with Israel.
"We are monitoring the overall situation, but in relation to our area, the situation has been quiet," said Mr Andrea Tenenti, spokesman for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran had "crossed a red line" and that the resulting bombardment against targets in Syria "was a consequence".
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a telephone call on Thursday that he did not want "new tensions" in the Middle East.
Mr Rouhani did not mention Israel's strikes in Syria, or those against the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Analysts say Israel feels it has a green light from Washington to move more aggressively against Iran's presence in Syria, particularly after Mr Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
Israel's raids in Syria, which a monitor said killed 23 fighters, were among its largest military operations in recent years and the biggest such assault on Iranian targets, the Israeli military said.
Israel carried out the raids after it said 20 rockets were fired from Syria at its forces in the Golan Heights at around midnight.
It blamed Iran's Quds force, adding that Israel's anti-missile system intercepted four, while the rest did not land in its territory.
There were no Israeli casualties.
If confirmed, it would be the first time Iran has sought to directly attack Israeli-controlled territory, aside from an alleged attempted drone assault in February.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor reported that dozens of rockets were fired from Syria towards the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, without saying who fired them. A senior pro-regime military source in Syria confirmed the salvo of rockets, insisting Israel had fired first.
Later, in the early hours of the morning, explosions were heard in Damascus, while live images were broadcast on television showing projectiles above the capital and several missiles destroyed by anti-aircraft systems.
Syrian state media said Israeli missile strikes had hit military bases as well as an arms depot and a military radar installation, without specifying the locations.
The official Sana news agency said "dozens of missiles were shot down by anti-aircraft systems in Syrian airspace", acknowledging a number had reached their targets.
Israel's military later confirmed it had carried out the raids, saying some 70 military and intelligence targets had been struck and all of its aircraft had returned safely.
Israel has long warned that it will not accept Iran entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria, where the Islamic Republic is supporting President Bashar al-Assad's regime in the civil war.
It has been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that have killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged those raids.