The Islamic State group might be closing in on the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria, but it has yet to make inroads in Syrian territory near Israel, a colonel in the Israel Defense Forces told reporters Sunday.
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“The Islamic State is a distant issue — we haven’t noticed any presence of ISIS or similar organizations in this area,” Col. Nir Ben David said at an observation point in the north, using an alternative name for the group.
Ben David reiterated that 95 percent of Syrian territory near Israel, excluding the Mount Hermon area, was in the hands of rebel groups, especially the Al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front. On Sunday the area over the border was calm.
“The area is quiet now, but it has been very active in recent days,” Ben David said. “The war is an internal issue of the Syrian people, and as a humanitarian side we hope this conflict will end.”
Ben David added that the UN Disengagement Observer Force, which is supervising the decades-long cease-fire agreement between Israel and Syria, had decided “they aren’t endangering their soldiers” and would “keep to their mandate some other way.”
UN forces have been chastened by kidnappings in the area by the Nusra Front.
Ben David noted that UNDOF had evacuated most of its outposts in Syria; only two remain — near the Israeli border in case the observers need to beat a hasty retreat. Four UN outposts remain on Israel’s Mount Hermon and are manned by Nepalese.
“On the tactical level, [UNDOF] never had any influence ... but they are of strategic importance for maintaining the agreement,” Ben David said. “UNDOF is changing the way it operates in the sector and is having difficulties. It is discussing its activities in the area with us.”
Meanwhile, more than 1,200 wounded Syrians have been treated in Israel as the civil war wages. This winter as well the IDF plans to make blankets and other amenities available for Syrians near the border.
“We have a goal — that our neighbors will at least not consider us the devil,” Ben David said.