Syrian civil war: Israeli army turns away refugees fleeing fighting at border

‘Go back before something bad happens. If you want us to be able to help you, go back’

Bethan McKernan
Wednesday 18 July 2018 17:40
IDF turns away Syrian refugees at border

Syrians fleeing fighting in the country’s south have been turned away from the Golan Heights border area by Israeli soldiers, video footage shows.

Several dozen people can be seen approaching the Israeli-occupied frontier in Al Jazeera footage of the incident, waving white cloths in an apparent request for help or refuge.

A Reuters reporter at the scene said an officer on the Israeli side of the militarised fence told the crowd in Arabic, “Go back before something bad happens. If you want us to be able to help you, go back,” using a megaphone. “Get a move on.”

The displaced men, women and children turned back to their makeshift camp after the interaction on Tuesday.

"The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) safeguards the upholding of the 1974 [disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria], an IDF spokesperson said.

"The IDF will continue to stand by the principle of non-intervention in Syria and will continue to provide humanitarian aid from Israel, as has been provided for several years, according to the existing need."

An estimated 320,000 people have fled to the southern borders with Jordan and Israel since the Russian-backed Syrian offensive to retake rebel-held Deraa province began last month.

Air strikes and shelling – including illegal barrel-bombing by Syrian government helicopters – have killed more than 100 civilians and caused some of the worst displacement of the seven-year-old war to date. At least six medical facilities in the area have also been bombed out of action.

Civilians The Independent has spoken to in recent weeks described leaving their towns and villages sometimes with little more than the clothes on their back as the Syrian army and allied militias rapidly advanced through the province.

Many of the displaced are sleeping in cars and under makeshift tarpaulin shelters without adequate shade and water to cope with the 45C (113F) heat.

Both Jordan and Israel have reiterated that their borders will remain closed to refugees, despite calls from both stranded Syrians and the international community to reconsider.

The plea for help or safe passage into Israel is a strange one considering the historical enmity between the two countries: Syria refused to recognise the creation of the Jewish state in 1948 and the two countries technically remain in state of war after three rounds of direct fighting.

Since Syria’s civil war began, however, Israel has provided medical assistance for both fighters and civilians near its borders but has refused to grant asylum to citizens.

“I think that we have really done all that can be done,” defence minister Avigdor Lieberman told Tel Aviv radio station 103FM. “We are not prepared to accept even one refugee. That’s not our job. There are lots of Arab countries, rich countries.”

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“Everyone is trying to escape death because the Jordanian border is blocked,” 27-year-old Ammar, an injured Syrian being treated at an Israeli military hospital in the Golan, told The Independent last week.

“It’s strange for us that Israel is more humanitarian than our Arab brothers. I once even heard people saying they hope that Israel would include this area in the Golan,” he adds.

Some civilians are trying to return home as town after town signs surrender deals with Bashar al-Assad’s troops, which offer safe passage to other opposition held areas in return for handing over their weapons.

Hundreds of people displaced to Quneitra, which borders the Golan, on Tuesday returned to the large town of Nawa after reports of a Russian-brokered deal that would spare the town of 100,000 people the bombardment seen elsewhere, war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

On Wednesday, however, reports emerged of civilian casualties there thanks to intensive airstrikes. Shelling also put a hospital in the city out of action, the organisation reported.

Deraa is supposedly part of a de-escalation deal between Mr Assad’s forces and rebel groups brokered by the US, Russia and Jordan last year, but the Syrian government says the latest offensive targets terrorist groups not covered by the agreement.

It mirrors other recent “scorched earth” campaigns against the opposition so far this year in eastern Ghouta and the Homs countryside – both also designated de-escalation zones.

Israel, anxious to ensure Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah is kept away from its border, has threatened significant military action if Syrian forces and their allies encroach on the Golan disengagement zone.

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