Internally displaced people from Deraa province erect a tent near the Golan Heights in Quneitra, Syria June 29, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALAA AL-FAQIR)
Syrians fleeing the conflict in the south of the country have fled toward the border with Israel on the Golan Heights, with the tents of thousands of displaced people seen near the border fence on Saturday.
Syrian rebels have held areas along the Golan Heights since the first years of the Syrian civil war. Last year, Russia, the US and Jordan signed a ceasefire agreement covering southern Syria. However in mid-June the Syrian regime, with backing from Russian air power, began a major offensive against Syrian rebels in the south.
The regime and Russian warplanes have avoided airstrikes near the Golan, but up to 160,000 Syrians have fled areas of fighting near Deraa. Some of them have sought shelter near the border with Israel.
On Thursday night the Israel Defense Forces said they delivered 300 tents and almost 50 tons of humanitarian aid across the border.
The IDF sends aid to Syrians fleeing Daraa in overnight `Good Neighbor` operation (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
On Saturday the tents, buses and shacks of the refugees could be seen for several kilometers stretching from the Syrian village of Al Rafeed towards Al-Malgah in the southern Golan, around 20 kilometers south of Majdal Shams.
Some of the tents appeared to be new and orange, while others looked dusty and may have been near the border for longer.
The displaced people have gathered as close as possible to Israel’s security fence that runs along the border and many of them are between the 1974 ceasefire lines Bravo and Alpha in an area usually patrolled by UNDOF.
An UNDOF deployment map from last year shows that the displaced people have gathered next to several UNDOF observation points.
In a video posted Friday some of the internally displaced people called on Israel
to protect them and for the UN to return in force to their patrolling areas along the border.
It appears the refugees think that setting up tents in the ceasefire area will protect them from encroachment or attack by the Syrian regime. Israel said last week it will not permit them to cross the border.
The fleeing Syrians are currently around 5 kilometers from the closest airstrikes. On Saturday Syrian rebels reported and posted a photo of Syrian regime airstrikes near the town of Nawa which is five kilometers from Al-Rafeed on the border.
Sounds of fighting, such as the “boom” of airstrikes, could barely be heard from the Golan on Saturday, far in the distance.
The presence of thousands of Syrians near the border will increase pressure on Israel to do more than supply humanitarian aid. Many of the Syrian rebel groups along the Golan have developed quiet relations with Israel over the years, according to reports, and civilians think that they will be safe near the border.
However, any sense of a crisis developing was not visible Saturday. Two UN vehicles plied the long border road, otherwise the only activity was from Israeli tourists searching for springs to visit and hikes to take.