From south to north

From south to north

Attention starts to turn from Gaza to the Golan as rebel fighters take the crossing on the Syrian border

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Smoke rises from the Syrian village of Quneitra, as seen from the Israeli Golan Heights, on August 27, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)
Smoke rises from the Syrian village of Quneitra, as seen from the Israeli Golan Heights, on August 27, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)

The Al-Nusra Front’s takeover of the border crossing on the Golan Heights gets nearly as much coverage Friday as the press’s continuing breakdown of the 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“Barbarians at the gates,” reads the headline in Israel Hayom as it reports on the Islamist Syrian rebel group’s takeover of the Quneitra crossing. The paper reports that while there was no cross-border fire from the Syrian Golan Heights on Thursday, the IDF was closely monitoring the actions of the Syrian rebel groups after they captured 43 UNDOF peacekeepers and commandeered the crossing.

“It’s no surprise, we knew what happened,” the paper quotes an unnamed military source saying. “The Al-Nusra Front has been on the border with Israel for a long time. Until today it hasn’t operated against us, but one day they can change direction.”

The paper completely downplays the kidnapping of the UN peacekeepers, however, making no mention of it besides its lead. Haaretz, on the other hand, makes it the focus of its main coverage. It reports that the 43 that were kidnapped by the Al-Nusra Front are Fijian and that there are 81 others trapped in their posts along the border between Syria and Israel who hail from the Philippines. Their fate, however, is better than that of roughly 160-250 Syrian soldiers who were summarily executed by the Islamic State in Raqqa province, in Syria’s far east, however.

Yedioth Ahronoth sticks the issue back away from the front pages, and instead focuses on the plight of the residents of what it calls “the Syria periphery,” employing the same terms for the area adjacent to Gaza which were hardest hit by rocket fire from the Strip. It notes that several residents of the towns and kibbutzim near the Syrian border are still hospitalized after fighting in Operation Protective Edge. The paper says that the feeling in the eastern Golan Heights is one of “boutique escalation [of violence].”

“You can watch the pillars of smoke in Quneitra through binoculars and see the rebels riding mopeds with Kalashnikovs on their backs, and dip your head in the pool at Kibbutz Merom Golan nearby,” it writes in its first person insight into life on the edge.

Haaretz’s political cartoon sums up the feeling that Israel fought off one assault in the south, only to have another one in the north encroach on its borders. The drawing shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding up a copy of Israel Hayom with the headline “Victory,” while looking back at Syria, where Islamist rebels are approaching the border fence.

Screen shot of Haaretz's political cartoon on August 29, 2014
Screen shot of Haaretz’s political cartoon on August 29, 2014

On the southern front, Yedioth Ahronoth runs an article quoting Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal saying in a post-war speech to the Palestinian people that “the Holocaust that Israel committed is double the Holocaust that Hitler did, because [Israel] bombed schools and hospitals.”

Meshaal also vowed that “this wasn’t the final battle for the liberation of Palestine, only an important waypoint on the route to victory.”

The paper also runs a series of short articles on some of the soldiers still wounded from combat in the Gaza Strip, including one soldier whose newborn boy had his ritual circumcision while he was unconscious in the hospital from injuries suffered in Operation Protective Edge. The medical staff wheeled the injured soldier into the room where the brit milah was held.

Israel Hayom reports on the Palestinian effort to take the conflict from the battlefield to the United Nations. The paper cites a report from the Palestinian Ma’an news agency which quotes an aid of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas saying that the PA would turn to the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly on September 15 and called on it to hold Israel to “a clear and defined time table for its withdrawal from the Palestinian territories.”

The paper also quotes Abbas telling Palestinian TV that Washington conveyed him messages according to which Netanyahu agreed to a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines. Israel Hayom quotes officials in the Prime Minister’s Office saying in response that Netanyahu never expressed interest in the ’67 lines to Abbas.

In Haaretz, Yossi Verter writes that while Netanyahu appears lackluster in the wake of the conflict in Gaza, “the premier can definitely be pleased about one critical fact: The 50-day operation did not produce a true alternative or generate a genuine challenger to him, certainly not in the foreseeable future.” Although Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog played his cards right during the war, “only 12 percent of the public considers him suitable to be prime minister, and his party continues to suffer from acute Knesset-seat anorexia – the equivalent of 14 seats in this week’s poll.” 

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