The Syrian government has withdrawn a large numbers of troops from the Golan Heights, according to a report by the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper on Monday.
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Western diplomats told the British newspaper that the Syrian redeployments near the Golan cease-fire line were the most significant in 40 years, with at least several thousand soldiers thought to have been moved in recent weeks to battle fronts closer to Damascus.
"They [the Syrian government] have moved some of their best battalions away from the Golan," said one western diplomatic source to The Guardian.
"They have replaced some of them with poorer-quality battalions, which have involved reducing manpower. The moves are very significant."
Rebel groups in the Quneitra region near Israel have made significant territorial gains since late January, including the taking of an artillery base two weeks ago. Quneitra - which was largely destroyed and abandoned during Israeli-Syrian clashes in 1974 - is still in Syrian government hands.
The frontier has largely been calm in the nearly four decades since Israel and Syria fought a war over the Golan Heights that ended with a UN-monitored cease-fire. But Israeli military officials have expressed concern that a rebel takeover could upset the calm maintained by Syrian President Bashar Assad and his predecessor and father the late Hafez Assad.
Israel has retaliated for sporadic Syrian fire that spilled into Israeli communities on the Golan Heights on several occasions over the past few months. Last November, the IDF returned fire with a Tamuz anti-tank missle after an errant mortar shell fired from Syria landed near an Israeli town in the Golan Heights.
A Syrian human rights group says nearly 9,000 government troops have been killed in two years of fighting between Assad's forces and rebels trying to topple him.
The Syria-based Violations Documentation Center has been keeping track of the dead, wounded and missing since the start the uprising against Assad's rule. It said on Monday 8,785 Syrian troops have died in the fighting.
At the start of the revolt, authorities published names of the fallen troops daily. As the uprising turned more violent and eventually became a civil war, reports of casualties on government side vanished from the public domain.
More than 70,000 people have died since Syria's crisis erupted in March 2011.