Israel delivers aid to Syrians fleeing government assault

Syrian children are seen at a makeshift camp in the village of Al-Rafid near the armistice line in the Golan Heights on June 27, 2018

Jerusalem (AFP) – Israel mounted a nighttime operation across the armistice line on the Golan Heights to deliver relief supplies to Syrians fleeing a government offensive in the south, the army said Friday.

The majority of the 50,000 Syrians who have fled the 10-day-old Russian-backed assault on rebel-held areas of Daraa province have headed towards the sealed border with Jordan but thousands have set up makeshift camps near the armistice line.

The Israeli army said there was no question of allowing displaced families to cross into the Israeli-annexed sector of the Golan.

But it said it had delivered 300 tents and 13 tonnes of food, as well as medical equipment and clothing to four of the camps on the Syrian-held side, most of which is under the control of various rebel groups.

The army gave no details on how the supplies were transported across the armistice line which is heavily fortified and monitored by the United Nations.

“Several thousand Syrian civilians fleeing the hostilities are living under poor conditions in these camps near the Israeli border,” it said in a statement.

The army “cannot permit Syrians fleeing hostilities to enter Israel and will continue maintaining Israel’s security interests,” it added.

Israel seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights and adjacent areas from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967. It annexed it in 1981 in a move never recognised by the international community.

The armistice line has remained largely peaceful, although stray fire has sporadically hit Israeli-occupied territory since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011, drawing retaliatory strikes on Syrian government positions.

There have also been strikes on what the Israeli media has said were convoys delivering advanced weapons to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, an Israeli arch foe and close ally of Damascus.

Only sick or wounded Syrians have been allowed across the armistice line to receive treatment at Israeli hospitals.

They have included rebel fighters as well as civilians and now number well into the thousands.

Parts of Daraa and much of adjacent Quneitra province abut the armistice line. 

Damascus ally Moscow has been in talks with Israel to avoid the government’s assault on rebel-held areas escalating into confrontation between Syrian and Israeli forces, who remain technically at war.