Dozens of fleeing Syrians turned away from Israeli border
Dozens of Syrian civilians have approached the border fence with Israel, apparently seeking safe passage to the Golan Heights, but were sent back by an Israeli border guard.
Reuters first reported the pleas of civilians stranded near the border, which was later confirmed by Syrian humanitarian workers in the area of Quneitra.
“People from the refugee camps went very close to the border to ask for protection because the bombardment is very close to Quneitra,” said one source near the Golan Heights. “It’s a tragedy.”
The latest development is a sign of the desperation among those seeking to escape as the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, wages a violent campaign backed by Russia to reclaim control of southern Syria. About 160,000 civilians have fled towards the Golan Heights, the region annexed by Israel from Syria.
Syrian government forces have launched a brutal bombardment of the region around Quneitra in an effort to force the surrender of rebel groups that still control territory in the region.
Israel has said it will not allow any refugees to cross the border, despite urgent calls by humanitarian agencies saying their safety is at risk. They are trapped between the Israeli border and advancing regime forces with little shelter from the harsh summer weather.
The intensity of the bombardment was such that dozens sought refuge in Israel despite the country’s status as an archenemy of Syria. Israel has on occasion allowed individual civilians and fighters with life-threatening injuries to be treated in its hospitals.
The regions of Deraa and Quneitra had long been considered areas of strategic importance where Israel hoped to limit the advance of Assad-aligned Iranian militias. But the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, indicated last week that Israel would accept Syrian government control of the region.
Reuters said the civilians retreated after being urged to do so by Israeli border guards.
The Assad regime is expected to establish control over southern Syria in the coming days as it seeks a military victory over rebels in a seven-year civil war that was sparked by protesters demonstrating against the government torture of civilians in southern Syria.
Last week the government hoisted its flag on rebel-controlled parts of Deraa, a symbolic victory in the birthplace of the uprising.