JERUSALEM — A civilian vehicle in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights was targeted by forces in neighboring Syria on Sunday, killing a 14-year-old boy in the first deadly incident along the volatile area since the Syrian civil war erupted more than three years ago. Israel retaliated with tank fire at Syrian government targets.
The Israeli military said two other people were wounded in Sunday's incident.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said it was "the most substantial incident" along the frontier with Syria since the beginning of the civil war. He said it was unclear whether the vehicle had been struck by a rocket, mortar shell or some other explosive device, but claimed the attack was clearly intentional.
"It was fired directly from east to west," he said, adding that it was a "direct hit" on the vehicle.
The vehicle was driving along a fence that Israel has built along the Syrian frontier, Lerner said. He described the vehicle as a water tanker, and said people on board were doing work for Israel's Defense Ministry at the time. "We have a hole in the fence, which indicates it could be a projectile," Lerner said.
He said Israeli tanks opened fire in response at Syrian government positions, but that it remained unclear whether the Syrian military or rebels had carried out the attack. Israel has said it holds Damascus responsible for any attacks emanating from its territory.
Israel captured the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel's annexation of the area has never been recognized internationally.
The incident occurred in the area of Tel Hazeka, near the Quneitra crossing. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops had shelled nearby targets on the Syrian border earlier in the day.
Israeli police identified the boy as Mohammed Karaka, 14, of the Arab village of Arraba in northern Israel. Local media said he had accompanied his father, the truck driver, to work.
Later Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he spoke to the boy's father and sent his condolences. "Our enemies don't differentiate between Jews and non-Jews, adults and children," he told an international gathering of Jewish journalists.
Israel has not taken sides in the Syrian civil war. While closely watching the fighting, it has largely stayed out of the violence, though it has occasionally responded to fire that has landed on the Israeli side of the Golan.
In his address, Netanyahu said in conflicts like Syria, where al-Qaida-inspired extremists are battling Iranian-backed Syrian troops, there is no good choice and it is best for Israel to sit back and let its enemies weaken each other. "This is a fault line between civilization and savagery," he said.