Israel delivers aid to Syrians fleeing government assault


JERUSALEM: Israel mounted a nighttime operation across its armistice line with Syria to deliver aid to people fleeing a government offensive in the country’s 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 parts of Daraa province have headed towards the sealed border with Jordan, but thousands have set up makeshift camps near the Israeli-held Golan Heights.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the Jewish state would provide cross-border aid but there was no question of allowing displaced families to cross into the Israeli-annexed sector of the strategic plateau.
“We are following closely what’s happening in southern Syria,” Lieberman wrote on his Twitter account. “As usual we shall be ready to provide all humanitarian assistance to civilian women and children but we shall not accept a single Syrian refugee in our territory.”
“We shall take care of Israel’s security interests,” he said.
The army said it had delivered 300 tents and 13 tonnes of food, as well as medical equipment and clothing to four of the camps in the Syrian part of the plateau, most of which is under the control of various rebel groups.
It 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.
Israel seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights and adjacent areas from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967. It annexed that territory 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, one of Israel’s arch foes 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 border the armistice line.
Syrian regime 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.