Israeli army fires warning shots into Syria

JERUSALEM -- Israel fired warning shots into Syria on Sunday after an apparently errant mortar shell struck an Israeli military post in the Golan Heights, the latest example of regional spillover from Syria’s civil unrest.

The Syrian mortar caused no damage or injuries, but Israeli military officials have grown increasingly alarmed over how fighting between the Syrian army and Syrian rebel groups has inched closer to the Golan Heights border.

Until Sunday, Israel had restrained itself from responding to the handful of instances in which mortar shells and gunfire struck Israeli settlements or military positions in the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967.

Sunday’s retaliation by Israeli soldiers marked the first such military engagement between Israel and Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israel Radio reported that Syrian forces returned fire, though Israeli military officials would not comment on that report.

Last week Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he warned Syrian President Bashar Assad to move the fighting away from the border region. Israel also complained to the United Nations about three Syrian tanks that last month drifted into what it says is a demilitarized zone along the Syrian border.

Though tensions along the normally quiet frontier are rising, Israel is reluctant to get involved in Syria’s unrest, analysts say. Some fear military intervention by Israel -– Syria’s longtime enemy -- could backfire by rallying support around Assad.

“If Israel got involved, it would be good for Bashar since he could say he’s protecting the Arab nation,’’ said Moshe Moaz, a Syria expert at Hebrew University. “But I think both sides are going to be very careful not to be dragged into something that will escalate. If Bashar really upsets Israel, Israel could do something very serious to teach him a lesson.”

In 2007 Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear facility that it feared could be used to develop nuclear weapons. But overt military clashes between the two countries have been rare in recent decades.

The Israeli action underscores how the Syrian conflict is spilling over its borders and, in at least two cases, prompting retaliatory fire from neighbors.

Turkey, which shares a more than 500-mile frontier with Syria, has repeatedly fired retaliatory artillery salvos into Syria in response to Syrian shells landing in Turkish territory.

The Turkish strikes began in October after an apparently errant mortar shell from Syria struck a home in a Turkish border town, killing five people: two women and three children.

Since then, Turkey has had a policy of firing back into Syria when shells from the Syrian side land on Turkish territory. Turkish commanders say they try to target the battery that fired into the Turkish side. There has been no definitive word on Syrian casualties from the Turkish retaliatory fire.

Turkey, though, unlike Israel, has been a major supporter of the Syrian opposition and has been a staging point and logistics center for rebels seeking to overthrow the Syrian government.

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-- Edmund Sanders and Patrick J. McDonnell


Other countries eagerly await U.S. immigration reform

Apple harvest
They design our electronics, harvest our food, staff our research labs and care for our children. Immigrants -- legal and illegal, skilled and unskilled -- by all accounts are vital cogs in the wheel of the U.S. economy, and the money they send back to their families improves the quality of life throughout their homelands.

GlobalFocusSo why, when both sending and receiving countries benefit, is the quest for comprehensive immigration reform in the United States so politically divisive and often pushed to the legislative back burner?

Immigration policy experts say the caustic partisan debate over who can stay and who must go has been ratcheted up by the lingering joblessness inflicted by the Great Recession and the searing spotlight of Campaign 2012 that illuminated only candidates' points of contention rather than those of convergence.

Now that the election is over and President Obama purportedly is beholden to the 71% of Latino voters who helped propel him to a second term, the more sober analysts of immigration dynamics are predicting that lawmakers of all political stripes will make a priority of devising more fair, efficient and mutually advantageous practices for integrating foreign labor.

"Immigrants operate on supply and demand, like everyone else. If there is a huge supply of jobs, they will come to the United States and look for them. If, as the case has been recently, there is not a huge supply of jobs or work opportunities are declining, then they either don’t come here or they go back," said S. Lynne Walker, vice president of the Institute of the Americas and an immigration policy analyst for more than 20 years. She pointed to a Pew Hispanic Center report in April that tracked the steady decline of undocumented workers, who have been kept at bay by the recession.

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U.N. rights chief decries U.S. Border Patrol's 'excessive force'

Nogales

MEXICO CITY -- The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized U.S. Border Patrol officers Thursday for resorting to “excessive use of force,” according to news reports, a week after a 16-year-old boy was fatally shot by officers after allegedly throwing rocks at them near the Mexican border town of Nogales.

“There have been very many young people, teenagers, who have been killed at the border,” the commissioner, Navi Pillay, said at a news conference in Geneva, according to wire services. “The reports reaching me are that there has been excessive use of force by the U.S. border patrols while they are enforcing the immigration laws.”

U.S. officials allege that the shooting victim, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, was smuggling drugs before the Oct. 10 incident, which has been strongly condemned by the Mexican government.

The FBI is investigating the matter, and the Department of Homeland Security is reviewing its guidelines for the use of force by border agencies.

At least 16 civilians have been killed by border agents since 2010, many of them during rock-throwing incidents involving suspected drug smugglers.

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--Richard Fausset

Photo:  A U.S. Border Patrol vehicle keeps watch along the border fence in Nogales, Ariz, on Aug. 9, 2012.  Credit: Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press


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