Israeli soldiers stand atop tanks in the Golan Heights near Israel's border with Syria.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Rebels in the towns of Inkhil and Jasim 10 km. from Syria’s border with the Israeli-held Golan Heights recently began handing over their weapons to the Assad regime.
At the same time, Syrian forces backed by Russian air power and Iranian-supported militias have advanced toward the border from the south, skirting a pocket held by Islamic State.
“Jasim and Nawa are getting squeezed, so a lot of people are filtering elsewhere,” said Dalton Thomas, founder of the American evangelical group FAI Relief that has been working with Syrians displaced by the fighting who have sought shelter near the Golan border fence. The crisis of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people in southern Syria is worsening, he warned.
On Friday the World Health Organization called for the protection of health facilities and increased access to southern Syria.
According to the WHO, 210,000 people have been displaced by the fighting near Deraa and Quneitra.
Some 160,000 Syrians were seeking safety near Quneitra, where they had little access to health facilities, said the WHO.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and rebels said jets, which they believed to be Russian, bombed an opposition-held village in Quneitra province on Sunday. In addition, the village of Mashara, 11 km. from the border, was seized by the regime, adding further pressure to those fleeing the fighting.
“People in Deraa and Quneitra are waiting for the humanitarian community to reach them with urgently needed aid, and we cannot let them down. Access must be granted,” Dr. Michel Thieren said Friday.
For the past seven years of Syria’s civil war, rebel-held areas in the south were receiving aid from Jordan. But with the border now sealed, supplies and aid from Jordan have been cut off. In recent weeks, Israel has become the main conduit for aid to the internally displaced. Over the weekend, 16 trucks with 3,000 food parcels were sent by the Syrian regime to Deraa, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, but none of this reached rebel-held areas near Quneitra.
The IDF sends aid to Syrians fleeing Daraa in overnight `Good Neighbor` operation (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
In recent years, Israel’s Operation Good Neighbor has aided Syrians near the border, including treating thousands of wounded. However the scale of the humanitarian crisis developing alongside the Golan fence is beyond what NGOs and aid organizations in Israel appear ready to handle. According to the WHO, three quarters of the public hospitals and health centers in Deraa and Quneitra are now closed.
FAI Relief is calling for more medical supplies and baby formula to be delivered across the border. In a video posted online Saturday, Thomas said Israel is now the “last lifeline of Syrians suffering.”
At the same time Israel faces a second threat across the border in the form of Iranian-backed units among the Syrian regime forces that are encroaching on the Golan Heights. In a report Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a research fellow at the Middle East Forum, argued that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is deeply integrated and an “indivisible part of the system” in Syria. While Israel has said it wants Iran removed from Syria as the civil war winds down and the US has spoken about rolling Iranian influence back, this will be difficult to do, al-Tamimi cautioned. “Truly countering the IRGC, let along removing it from Syria entirely, would require the total dismantlement of the system itself, or at least going on the offensive, reducing the Syrian government area of control,” he wrote.
This puts Israel in a difficult position.
The violence is now only 4 km. from the 1974 cease-fire line and United Nationals Disengagement Zone. As Syrian regime forces draw closer to the border, the humanitarian pressure is increasing and a crisis developing. At the same time, the Iranian regime wants to exploit the offensive along with its allies, including Hezbollah, to move closer to Israel. The situation on the Golan, overshadowed by the sirens and rockets in the south on Saturday, is combustible.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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