Israel says rebels take Syrian frontier villages

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JERUSALEM — Syrian rebels have taken control of nearly all villages near the frontier with the Israel-held Golan Heights, according to Israel’s defense minister who said today that Bashar Assad’s forces were “displaying ever-diminishing efficiency.”

Fighting in the area this past week has already drawn Israeli retaliatory fire into Syria twice after apparently stray mortar shells flew into Israel-held territory. That raised fears that Syria’s civil war could take a new and even more dangerous twist, widening further into an armed conflict with the region’s strongest military power.

Israel’s frontier with Syria is the Golan Heights. The border area on the Syrian side is a buffer zone, with some villages where fighting has flared over the past week. The 46-mile-long buffer zone is governed and policed by the Syrian authorities, and no military forces other than U.N. forces are permitted within it.

The Syrian civil war threatens to inflame an already combustible region. The fighting already has already spilled into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

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