Syrian REBELS (not govt) seize territory north of Golan Heights
Syrian’s civil war had spread to its border after rebel fighters seized territory in the demilitarised zone north of the Golan Heights, Israeli officials have warned.
By Phoebe Greenwood, the Golan Heights, Ruth Sherlock in Beirut and Damien McElroy
7:21PM GMT 13 Nov 2012
At least two hundred rebel soldiers had taken over Beerajam and Bariqa, two isolated villages nestled in the buffer zone established between the two countries following the Yom Kippur war in 1973.
“The rebels are employing a clear tactic of drawing the regime forces to fight in these demilitarised areas because of the limitations on the Syrian armed forces,” a military intelligence source from Israel’s northern command said yesterday. “Rebels have seized control of the area north of Quneitra and the area to its south. If they are brave they will try to make a swift move to cut off Quenetra city and cut off the road to Damascus. We cannot rule that out as a next step.”
The armistice agreed in 1974 prohibits the Syrian government from engaging in military activity within a buffer zone that runs along the length of the Israeli border, with a width just under six miles.
Israel has not formally taken sides in the Syrian conflict and in some quarters there are fears that a more hostile Islamist government may succeed the Assad regime.
The military officials said the rebels in control of Quneitra are members of a radical Salafist faction calling itself “Eagles of the Golan”.
The group, made up largely of foreign fighters, including al-Qaeda militants from Iraq, boasts that that once it has ousted the Assad regime, it will focus its attention on Israel.
“We are used to a Cold War situation between Israel and Syria but what we are seeing along the border now is a situation similar to that of Lebanon or Sinai, where a weak sovereign state is failing to exert its control over an area that different rebel groups can use to attack Israel,” a source said.
The rebel advance was reported as opposition leaders sought recognition from Arab League and European states at a summit in Cairo that they said would allow them to acquire weapons overseas.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, hailed a deal to restructure the opposition, bringing in a new leader and establishing a broader coalition of parties.
“It is a very important milestone and a very big step towards (recognition),” he said. “We do now want to see the details of the agreement made in Doha implemented, and we want to see in practice that the Syrian opposition or the coalition now being assembled is as inclusive as possible of opposition groups and all communities in Syria.”
With British and other opposition backers now openly dealing with rebel fighters, Mr Hague predicted international recognition would result in more support for the opposition.
“We want to see that they have support inside Syria. That is a very crucial consideration. If they do all these things, well then, yes, we will be able to recognise them as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” he said.
Britain is to host a conference of opposition allies in London on Friday that will focus on giving support to the rebel opposition.
“Friday is an opportunity to get down to business. We are ready to help train Syrians now,” said Jon Wilks, the UK representative to the Syrian opposition.
France became the first Western country to recognise the new opposition on Tuesday night. The US described the coalition as “a legitimate representative” of the Syrian.
One of the key issues facing the world is the increasing humanitarian crisis in Syria resulting from the fighting. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent said that more than 2.5 million people had lost their homes since the crisis began in 2011.
“The figure they are using is 2.5 million. If anything, they believe it could be more, this is a very conservative estimate,” Melissa Fleming, chief spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said in Geneva.
The UN has said it expects to provide aid, including blankets, clothing and cooking kits, to some 500,000 people in the war-torn country by the end of the year.
But the widespread violence is making distribution inside Syria increasingly difficult.
The UNHCR has temporarily withdrawn about half of its 12 staff from north-eastern Hasakah province, an area on the Turkish border where battles have raged around the town of Ras al-Ain. In total, UNHCR has 350 staff in Syria working out of Damascus, the northern battleground of Aleppo and Hasakeh.