Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may be encouraging unrest on the Israeli-Syrian frontier in a futile effort to save his regime.
"We have no choice, we have to defend our border and Assad, in my opinion, will fall in the end," said Barak a day after hundreds of protesters from Syria tried to cross into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, prompting troops to open fire.
"It may be something that the Syrians are encouraging, it may be that they are pleased with it, they may think it distracts attention," Barak told Israel public radio.
Syrian state television said 23 people were killed and some 350 wounded by Israeli gunfire, with all of the casualties falling on the Syrian side of a no-man's land.
But the Israeli army said there were 10 dead, all of whom were killed when a number of Syrian landmines exploded in Quneitra after being set off by Molotov cocktails hurled by the protesters.
Barak said Israel would continue to defend its borders and that Assad would not be able to use the confrontations to avoid the consequences of massive popular uprisings rocking Syria.
"I think he will fall, he's lost his legitimacy, he may be able to stabilize for another six or nine months, he will be very weakened."
Rights groups say more than 1,100 civilians have been killed and at least 10,000 arrested in Syria since protests erupted in mid-March.
Damascus insists that the unrest is the work of "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.
"If he stops the use of force today he will be seen as weak and will be brought down; if he continues, the killing will increase and cracks will start to appear, including within the army," Barak said.
"His fate is already determined. I think the same about [Yemeni President Ali Abdullah] Saleh and [Libyan leader Moammar] Qaddafi in Libya.”
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Syria slams “flagrant Israeli aggression” on Golan