Israel Transferred Aid to Syrians Seeking Refuge Near Border in Overnight Mission

Army says it provided tons of food, medicine and clothing to Syrians living in makeshift encampments on Golan border, but says will not allow them entry to Israel

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Makeshift encampments housing Syrians fleeing from Daraa, as seen from the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. June 29, 2018
Makeshift encampments housing Syrians fleeing from Daraa, as seen from the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. June 29, 2018Credit: Gil Eliyahu

The Israeli army said on Friday that it transferred overnight humanitarian aid to Syrians fleeing fighting in Syria and to those currently living in makeshift encampments not far from the border with Israel.

The shipment was made to camps in the south and center of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. These camps, the army said, are located along the border and are currently housing a few thousand Syrians fleeing fighting in the Daraa region. According to the UN, over 120,000 Syrians have fled the area in recent days.

"We left under bombardment, barrel bombs, [air strikes by] Russian and Syrian warplanes," said Abu Khaled al-Hariri, 36, who fled from al-Harak town to the Golan frontier with his wife and five children.

"We are waiting for God to help us, for tents, blankets, mattresses, aid for our children to eat and drink."

The UN human rights chief warned Friday of a "catastrophe" in southern Syria and called on all sides in the conflict to end the escalating violence in Daraa and avoid a repetition "of the bloodshed and suffering seen earlier this year" in eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus.

>> Assad Preparing to Retake Southwest Syria and Israel Will Have to Decide Whether to Intervene

The army said the living conditions in the camps were dire, with no access to electricity, water or food. The army also said that recent days have seen a rise in the number of Syrians living in the encampments.

According to a statement by the IDF, aid was transferred to four different sites on the Syrian side of the Golan during the operation. They said over 300 tents, 13 tons of food, 15 tons of baby formula and three large shipments of medical equipment and clothing had been delivered.

Makeshift encampments housing Syrians fleeing from Daraa, as seen from the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. June 29, 2018Credit: Gil Eliyahu

Israel is monitoring developments in southern Syria while it is preparing for various scenarios, including continued humanitarian assistance to fleeing Syrians. The IDF will not allow Syrians fleeing the country into Israel and will continue to defend Israel's national security interests, the army said.

The IDF has been providing life-saving humanitarian assistance, alongside a non-intervention policy, for a number of years during the international conflict in Syria, the army said in a statement.

The Syrian media reported that tens of thousands of people have fled the Daraa region due to heavy airstrikes against the rebels by the Syrian and Russian air forces. Many residents have headed south to the Jordanian border, but Jordan isn’t letting them enter.

Haaretz has learned that officers from the Free Syrian Army, that is operating in the Dara area, have sent messages to Syrian government forces in recent days saying that they will lay down their weapons if they are allowed to stay in their villages and homes. A Syrian opposition official who spoke with Haaretz said refugees from the area were not marching directly toward Israel and people were leaving through the corridors opened up by the Syrian army, mostly toward the east and north.

“Some people turned toward Jordan and set up in the border area and a few hundred made their way in the direction of a [refugee] camp that already existed in the Quneitra area, not far from the cease-fire lines with Israel,” the opposition official said. “Some went out to open areas. The main thing is to be far from the bombing.”

The IDF raised Thursday its alert level in the Golan Heights in light of the recent escalation in the fighting in southern Syria between the Assad regime and rebel militias and the Syrian army’s increasing proximity to the Israeli border.

Israel isn’t expecting a direct confrontation with the Syrian army, but it is preparing for possibility of spillover effects from the regime’s attack, with Russian and Iranian assistance, on the Daraa region, which is just sixty kilometers from the Israeli border.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot flew to Washington on Thursday for a quick meeting with his U.S. counterpart. On Sunday, the security cabinet will meet to discuss the home front’s preparedness for a war in the north.

Eisenkot’s meeting with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, was arranged over the past few days. The two will mainly discuss events in Syria, as well as their countries’ joint effort to restrain Iran’s military intervention in the region.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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