IDF Closes Golan Heights Border Area

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Fighting between Syrian forces and rebels backed in part by radical Islamist groups has prompted the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to declare the Golan Heights border area with Syria a closed military zone.

The IDF Northern Command closed the Quneitra crossing area in the northern Golan for security reasons, according to the IDF Spokesman's office.

Clashes have intensified in the past few days, and it has boosted worries that Israeli residents in the Golan, especially farmers, could be in the line of fire.

Affiliates of al Qaeda and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah, an ally of Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have both mustered forces near the Golan. The Sunni opposition is trying to dislodge the Syrian army from its control of key posts in the area.

The Jerusalem Post printed a warning from IDF Chief of Staff, Lt.-General Benny Gantz, who said last October, "The pastoral scenery of the Golan Heights, awash with basalt and flowing streams, can change in a momentary bang to a battlefield of blood, fire and plumes of smoke."

Although the fighting remains mostly confined to Syrian factions, Israeli forces are preparing for a time when the guns could be trained on them. The IDF created a new 210th territorial Bashan Division and deployed it to the Syrian border area in recent months.

The rising security tension comes as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel prepares to visit Jordan and Israel later this week.

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