Israeli Defense Official: Syrian Forces in Demilitarized Zone Will Be Targeted

Syrian army soldiers patrol in government-controlled Aleppo's al-Khalidiya area where the army progressed towards the industrial zone of al-Layramoun and Bani Zeid on June 28, 2016. Aleppo was once the country's commercial hub but now lies divided between government forces in the west and rebels in the east. / AFP …

TEL AVIV – A defense official on Wednesday warned the Assad regime that any Syrian forces entering the demilitarized buffer zone between the two countries will be considered a legitimate target.

The official said that while Israel will continue to abide by the 1974 UN ceasefire agreement with Syria, the army was tracking the movements of Syrian forces that are in the area as part of the regime’s offensive against the rebel-held south.

“The agreement is the basis for any future security reality after Assad returns to [Israel’s] northern border,” he told Israel’s Channel 10. “Any Syrian troops who break it will be attacked.”

His comments followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call a day earlier for Syria to uphold the ceasefire.

According to the report, the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force (UNDOF), which administers the buffer zone and is responsible for maintaining the ceasefire between Israel and Syria, asked the two countries earlier this year for permission to install warning systems for infiltrators and explosive devices.

While Israel gave permission, Syria did not.

Israel believes the Syrians were fearful that UN forces will use radar to track the Syrian army, the report said.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, the majority of UN peacekeeping forces have withdrawn from the buffer zone.

Separately, Israel has been coordinating with UNDOF to set up “safe zones” for the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Assad’s offensive. The Syrians have pitched tents on the border with Israel since the regime began its campaign in the Daraa region. The IDF is responding by sending several tons of medical supplies and food over the border and even bringing in six wounded refugees – including four children – into Israeli territory to receive treatment in a local hospital.

Delivering the six wounded Syrians into Israel was a “unique and complex medical operation,” the army said in a statement issued last week, but added that in general the country would “not be bringing Syrian refugees into Israeli territory and will continue to act to protect Israel’s security interests.”

The IDF also said on Friday that it had sent several tons of humanitarian aid over the border. Some 160,000 Syrians are thought to have fled the fighting in the southwestern Deraa region, with several thousand setting up temporary refuges on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

“The IDF is monitoring what is going on in southern Syria and is prepared for a variety of scenarios, including continuing to provide humanitarian aid to fleeing Syrians,” the army said.

Three hundred tents and 50 tons of humanitarian aid — including food, baby food, clothing, shoes and medical supplies — were sent over as part of the ongoing Operation Good Neighbor and lasted “several hours,” the army said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel was “prepared to provide any humanitarian assistance to civilians, women and children,” but emphasized “we will not accept any Syrian refugees into our territory.”


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