A series of reports from the United Nations have confirmed that Israeli security forces have given significant assistance to Syrian opposition groups, specifically during the past 18 months as the war on Syria rages. Some reports detail western support as far back as 4 years.
The UN’s Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights has provided numerous details proving Israel’s strong cooperation with Syrian insurgents, including the Syrian al-Qaeda group Jabhat al-Nusra.
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The reports document a number of instances where Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) had dealings with “armed members of the opposition”, often crossing the disputed Israeli-Syrian border, spanning 18 months from March 2013 to December 2014.
The specific groups involved are not identified for each occurrence but it is clear that they are among the various militants groups fighting against the Syrian Army and President Bashar Al-Assad, and not just refugees.
“UNDOF sporadically observed armed members of the opposition interacting with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations position 85,” as quoted from the most recent report.
One of the more explicit allegations documents 59 incidents at ‘Position 85’ (see map) alone, where UN staff “observed armed members of the opposition transferring 89 wounded persons from the Bravo side across the ceasefire line to IDF and IDF on the Alpha side handing over 19 treated and 2 deceased individuals to the armed members of the opposition on the Bravo side”, which is noted in the June 10, 2014 report.
In last week’s December 1 report, an incident was described which shows the difficulty in obtaining complete info as UN observers witnessed IDF soldiers allowing armed fighters in to the country who were not injured. The incident occurred to a few miles to the north of Position 85, closer to Position 80. This is of increased significance as Syrian officials have made formal accusations about one specific tent camp near the Israeli which is claimed to be for refugees but is said to be a safe haven for “terrorists” backed by the West. Syrian officials also stated it could be considered a target if Israeli security forces allow it to remain unchecked.
The last report distributed to Security Council members, on December 1, described another meeting between IDF soldiers and Syrian opposition members that two UN representatives witnessed on October 27 some three kilometers east of Moshav Yonatan. The observers said they saw two IDF soldiers on the eastern side of the border fence opening the gate and letting two people enter Israel. The report, contrary to previous ones, did not note that the two exiting Syria were injured or why they entered Israel.
This specific event is of particular interest in light of what happened on the Syrian side of the border in the exact same region. According to the report, UN observers stated that tents were set up about 300 meters from the Israeli position for some 70 families of Syrian deserters. The Syrian army sent a letter of complaint to UNDOF in September, claiming this tent camp was a base for “armed terrorists” crossing the border into Israel. The Syrians also warned that if the UN would not evacuate the tent camp, the Syrian army would view it as a legitimate target.
The camp is seen in screenshots below from mako.co.il, an Israeli news source.
The new details come after increased warnings from Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad that most of the “rebels” are terrorists supported by US and Israel. Evidence has stacked up that the western support is not only in the form of weapons, but medical aid, transport, shelter and essentially evacuation from the battlefield. An al-Akhbar article also notes the widely acknowledged ‘truce’ between al-Nusra and IDF forces.
“International cooperation” is necessary to crush the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday, while Israeli media claimed Wednesday that hundreds of wounded Syria rebels have been treated in Israel.
“The region is going through decisive times” and the most important factor in determining the outcome is whether there is “real and sincere international cooperation” against the jihadists, Assad said.
“[ISIS] did not appear out of thin air. ISIS came to cap accumulating wrong-headed policies by parties involved in the war against Syria that have supported, armed and funded terrorist and takfiri organizations to undermine Syria and strike Syrian unity,” state news agency SANA quoted Assad as saying.
On Sunday, a United Nations panel investigating war crimes in Syria said in a report that ISIS militants have been receiving “external support” in the last four years.
“They did not fall from the sky. They have been entering Syria with external support in the last four years,” said Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chair of the inquiry, adding sarcastically that the presence of ISIS was not a “big discovery.”
Assad was speaking to members of the ruling Baath party, just days after US President Barack Obama rejected any alliance with the Syrian president against the jihadists.
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Last February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited a field hospital in the annexed Golan Heights for wounded Syrian rebels. Netanyahu’s visit was much appreciated by many Syrian opposition leaders including Mohammed Badie, who said from Istanbul that he and his friends “would like to thank Netanyahu for his public support for wounded Syrian rebels.”
In October, an exposé by Israeli political commentator Ehud Yaari confirmed an existing relationship between the two sides.
The Israeli writer also spoke about an “undeclared truce” between Israel and Nusra, which so far have not engaged in any clashes with the Israeli army.
The Israel-based newspaper Haaretz has even called out Israeli officials for first lying about assistance, then distorting it and now evidence of that is being documented.
Israel at first asserted the injured were civilians reaching the border of their own initiative and without prior coordination because they could not obtain suitable treatment in Syria. Later, as the numbers increased, Israel said it was coordinating with civilians but not opposition groups. However, the reports reveal direct contact between the IDF and armed opposition members.
According to a report from December 3, 2013, a person wounded on September 15 “was taken by armed members of the opposition across the ceasefire line, where he was transferred to a civilian ambulance escorted by an IDF vehicle.” Moreover, from November 9 to 19 the “UNDOF observed at least 10 wounded persons being transferred by armed members of the opposition from the Bravo side across the ceasefire line to IDF.”
Further reports indicated similar incidents. However, cooperation between the IDF and Syrian rebels that was revealed in UN observer reports does not just include transferring the wounded. Observers remarked in the report distributed on June 10 that they identified IDF soldiers on the Israeli side handing over two boxes to armed Syrian opposition members on the Syrian side.
This incident for example came after UN reported 43 peacekeepers were seized by “militants” in Golan Heights and 81 more were “trapped” in late August. “Rebels” had taken control of the border region on the Syrian side near Quneitra, something mainstream media couldn’t ignore, with little explanation from the UN.
They were detained Thursday morning near the Syrian town of Quneitra, the location of the border crossing that rebels had captured, according to the United Nations. In addition, 81 U.N. peacekeepers from the Philippines were being “restricted to their positions” Thursday near villages in the area, the U.N. said without elaborating.
Al-Nusra Front fighters and other Syrian rebels seized control of the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing Wednesday — a capture that represents a new dynamic in a war long feared not only for its deadly effects inside Syria but for threatening to widen into a destabilizing regional conflict.
Fighting appeared to continue Thursday. From the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan Heights, a CNN crew could hear intense small-arms fire coming from the old town of Quneitra around noon.
The crew also could see gunmen — apparently rebels — at a checkpoint on the Syrian side of the crossing. A Syrian flag that had been at the checkpoint was no longer there.
The Israeli military has closed the area it controls around the border crossing.
The increase of attacks on UN forces in recent months resulted in the abandoning positions along the eastern front, retreating to the Israeli side of the border. The CNN article went on to describe the multiple conflicts over this border crossing which initially resulted in Austrian peacekeepers withdrawing from the region (and replaced with Israeli forces). Earlier in the week, official al-Qaeda franchise al-Nusra released an American reporter held hostage at the same crossing.
During the fighting Wednesday between Syrian forces and rebels, three errant mortar rounds and some small-arms fire crossed into Israeli-controlled territory, Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.
An Israeli military officer was moderately injured, the military said on Twitter, and Israeli forces responded by striking two Syrian military positions.
An activist in the Golan Heights, Shamil al-Jolani, said rebel fighters reached the crossing Wednesday despite bombardment by Syrian warplanes. Because of agreements with Israel, Syrian forces could not bomb the forces at the crossing, he said.
The Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya and other rebel groups, not all of them Islamist, also were involved in the fighting, Jolani said.
The border crossing made headlines earlier this week, when the al-Nusra Front handed over American journalist Peter Theo Curtis to U.N. peacekeepers on the Syrian side of the checkpoint.
The al-Nusra Front is a fierce rival to another Sunni Muslim extremist group in Syria, ISIS, which calls itself the “Islamic State” and has been fighting in Iraq to establish an Islamic caliphate across both countries. Both al-Nusra Front and ISIS have been fighting the Assad regime and each other in Syria, opposition groups have said, with ISIS gaining control of a large portion of northern and eastern Syria.
Wednesday’s fighting marked at least the second time rebels have attacked the crossing.
In June 2013, rebels and Syrian forces battled for control of Quneitra. The violence prompted Austrian troops to pull out of a United Nations peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights. Israel sent tanks and troops to the border for a time, as well.
Armed groups also detained U.N. peacekeepers in the area in March and May of 2013, but they eventually were released safely, the United Nations says.
The region is about 30 miles from the Syrian capital and would allow rebels to capture more strategic control, creating a path directly to Damascus. Considering yesterday’s Israeli airstrikes on reported military targets near Damascus, the area continues to be in focus for IDF forces and the West.
There isn’t a clear number of fighters who received medical care however one report puts it at nearly 600 for just 2 hospitals, with the total likely over 1,000.
The channel’s website also indicated that “more than 449 wounded Syrian rebels” have received medical treatment at the Nahariya hospital.
Meanwhile, Israeli website Walla reported last month that “Poriya Hospital has treated 124 wounded from Syria so far.”
Lebanon has dealt with Israeli incursions on its border as well from efforts related to assisting Syrian opposition groups. The country’s experience is well summarized by this example from last Thursday.
The Lebanese army opened anti-aircraft fire on Thursday at an unmanned plane in central Bekaa, the state-run National News Agency reported.
According to NNA, the Army’s Second Artillery Brigade opened anti-aircraft fire at a drone that was flying over the Riyaq military airport.
It is unclear if the drone was hit.
“Around 10:30 am an Israeli reconnaissance plane overflew Riyaq region and army units in the area responded by opening anti-aircraft fire,” the army said in a communique later in the day.
However, Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) said that the army “opened anti-aircraft fire at three Israeli MK drones that staged a circular flight over Riyaq airport.”
According to the radio station, the three UAVs were filming the area to help militiamen reach into Riyaq airport from Syria’s Zabadani.”
In a separate statement, the army said that “Israeli warplanes violated Lebanon’s airspace on Wednesday afternoon over the town of Alma al-Shaab, staging a circular flight over all Lebanese regions, before leaving the airspace at 10:45 pm over the town of Kfar Kila,” added the statement.
Israel’s violations of Lebanese airspace, some of which at low altitudes, have intensified in recent days.
Israel routinely sends F-16 fighter planes over Lebanon, in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution that ended the 2006 war. The Israeli planes have often broken the sound barrier over Beirut and other places as a show of strength, most recently after the drone incident.
NNA also reported on Thursday that Israeli warplanes overflew the town of Marjayoun at 9:00 am.
The UN-led observers began patrolling in 1974 as part of an agreement between Israel and Syria setting up the buffer zone. About 1,000 UN observers were on duty until 2013, when the Syrian civil war brought increased activity to the region.