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Jordanian airstrike hits Syrian vehicles

BEIRUT — Jordanian warplanes Wednesday destroyed three vehicles trying to enter the country from neighboring Syria in an unusual strike that underscored Jordan’s intensive efforts to maintain control over a border crisscrossed by smugglers, Syrian insurgents, and refugees.

Jordan’s armed forces said in a statement that the warplanes fired on the vehicles after they failed to heed security forces’ demands to stop and ignored warning shots from the aircraft, adding, “The army will not tolerate such actions.”

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Confusion swirled about the vehicles, which appeared, in images broadcast on Jordanian television, to be pickup trucks. The army did not give details on who was in the trucks or where along the border the strike occurred. Syrian state media said the vehicles did not belong to the Syrian army.

Jordan has sought to keep a low profile in the Syrian conflict, fearing that violence could spill over the border. But among rebels active in northern Jordan, it is an open secret that Jordan hosts an international operations room that manages the movement of rebels across the border and provides limited military assistance to rebel groups deemed nonextremist.

The Jordanian government has denied that it assists either side in the conflict.

Jordan also has sought to regulate and slow the flow of civilians fleeing Syria, fearing pressure on the Jordanian economy and demographic balance from the nearly 600,000 registered Syrian refugees already there. Another concern is the hundreds of Jordanian jihadists who have gone to Syria to fight in the war alongside radical Islamist groups.

Jordanian security forces routinely arrest smugglers on the border, and sometimes clash with them, but such airstrikes are rare.

Qaisar Habib, a media activist in southern Syria, said in a Skype interview that the vehicles belonged to a Syrian rebel group. He said the attack showed that the Jordanian government was “very sensitive” about the border as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an extremist militant group, tries to establish a presence.

Habib said the strike also could have been a signal from Jordan that it will not tolerate recent attempts by another militant group, the Nusra Front, to attack the Nasib border crossing, which is surrounded by rebel-held territory but still run by the Syrian government.

But Abu al-Majd al-Zoubi, a spokesman for the Yarmouk Division, a prominent rebel group, said the vehicles did not belong to any rebel group.

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