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Syrian rebels move in on Israel's border

Wednesday, 14 November 2012 - 1:17pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Officials said at least 200 rebel soldiers had taken over Beerajam and Bariqa, two isolated villages in the buffer zone established between the two countries following the Yom Kippur war in 1973.

Israel warned last night (Tuesday) that Syrian's civil war had spread to its border after rebel fighters seized territory in the demilitarised zone north of the Golan Heights.

Officials said at least 200 rebel soldiers had taken over Beerajam and Bariqa, two isolated villages 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. "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 regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The military officials said the rebels in control of Quneitra were 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 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, Britain's 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 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."

France yesterday became the first European nation to recognise Syria's new National Coalition as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people".

Britain is to host a conference of opposition allies in London on Friday that will focus on giving support to the rebel opposition.

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. "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 Syria by the end of the year.

But the widespread violence is making distribution 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.


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