Scores of displaced Syrians, some waving white flags, briefly approached within 200 meters of the frontier fence along the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights on Tuesday before IDF soldiers ordered them to go back.
“You are on the border of the State of Israel. Go back. We don’t want to hurt you,” the soldier shouted in Arabic through a loudspeaker at the crowd, live Reuters TV footage showed.
The Syrians, approaching from Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, appeared to be seeking sanctuary from the current offensive led by Syrian President Bashar Assad to retake rebel-held territory in the southern part of the country.
Rebels surrender as the Syrian army advances, June 30, 2018 (Reuters)
A spokeswoman for the Israeli military said the IDF was closely monitoring the situation, and that there were no exceptional events. The Syrians turned back after Israeli soldiers shouted at them to do so, she added.
The refugees reportedly returned to an IDP camp in the village of Bariqa after they crossed one of the 1974 ceasefire lines west of Tel al-Harra, a strategic hill which overlooks Israel’s Golan Heights.
The IDPs have been sheltering between the Alpha and Bravo cease-fire lines in an area under observation by the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
Syrian regime forces backed by Shia militias and Russian aerial bombing have advanced against rebel groups and retaken territory next to the Israeli border which has been under rebel control for the past four years.
In addition to retaking the main border crossing between Damascus and the Jordanian capital of Amman, the Syrian regime has retaken dozens of villages in the Deraa province. On Sunday, the regime seized Tel al-Harra, an important hill that dominates the border area. Fighting continued near the border area on Monday.
Thousands of Syrians have fled
towards the Israeli border on the Golan Heights seeking a safe zone. According to the UN, more than 120,000 Syrians have fled their homes due to the current regime offensive. Many have clustered near Quneitra, hoping that since the border area is a no-fly zone they will be safe from air raids or further regime advances.
On Monday, a monitor reported that eight civilians, including women and children, were killed when an Assad regime helicopter dropped barrel bombs in a school sheltering internally displaced people in the village of Ein al-Tena in the southern suburbs of Quneitra.
Also on Monday, several dozen IDPs were seen on video approaching the fence north of al-Rafeed.
Dalton Thomas, founder of the American evangelical group FAI Relief which is providing aid to the displaced Syrians, said that he thinks the numbers approaching the border fence will likely grow.
“Right now FAI is the only aid group on the ground. Our resources are being depleted as fast as we can raise the alarm.” Over the weekend the WHO called for greater access to health care for the IDPs.
Despite unconfirmed reports that Israel and the UN have been in talks to set up safe-zones for Syrians along the border, Israel has made it clear that no Syrian refugees will be granted entry. Israel will continue providing humanitarian aid.
As the offensive draws closer to Israel’s Golan Heights, Jerusalem has stressed that the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement between it and Damascus be upheld, and that the demilitarized buffer zone along the border be respected.