A top adviser to President Bashar Assad accused Israel of directing the rebels in their brief takeover of the Golan Heights border town of Quneitra Thursday, suggesting that IDF troops may have been fighting undercover in Syria.
“We are not involved in the Syrian civil war,” said an official Israeli source Saturday in response.
Assad has repeatedly sought to misrepresent the civil war as a terrorist offensive, led by outsiders including Israel, against his regime and his country. Israel has firmly rejected such claims in the past, with politicians and military chiefs repeating that Israel has no desire to become involved in the conflict, but seeks to protect Israel from the dangers it presents, such as fighting spilling over the border, and sophisticated weaponry being used against it or falling into rogue and dangerous hands.
In an interview aired Saturday with Al-Mayadeen, a pro-Hezbollah media station in Lebanon, Assad’s close aide Bouthaina Shaaban said, “When we hear in the media that wounded armed gangs were transferred to Israel for treatment, I say that maybe it was all the work of undercover Israeli soldiers.”
Shaaban added that Israeli machinations were driving the rebels to fight Assad near Quneitra. “There are signs indicating that this is not a people belonging to armed gangs, but to the Israelis,” she said. “The goals of armed gangs are, at the very least, consistent with Israeli targets.”
She concluded by stating that Israel was was the “sole party that benefited from the fighting” between pro-Assad forces and the rebels in the Golan Heights, but did not specify how Israel gained from the belligerence.
On Friday, Hezbollah television channel al-Manar publicized a report that also seemed designed to underline claims by Assad and Hezbollah that Israel is directly aiding rebel forces, something Israel firmly denies.
The channel claimed Israeli ammunition was found in the Syrian battle zone border town of Qusair, but the IDF was quick to explain that the “bombs” are non-lethal and date back to before Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in the year 2000.
Al-Manar claimed that Uzi guns, missiles, gas masks, and communication devices were found in the town, which was seized on Wednesday from rebel groups by forces loyal to Assad. It also claimed that the gas masks may have been distributed to the rebels fighting against Assad in order to protect them from noxious gases.
The channel said many 120mm mortar bombs “bearing Hebrew writing” were found in the former rebel stronghold. However, closer inspection of al-Manar’s footage showed that the “mortar bombs” depicted were actually non-explosive illuminating bombs.
The IDF confirmed later Friday that the bombs in al-Manar’s footage were illuminating bombs, with military sources saying the devices dated from before Israel’s pullout from its self-declared “security zone” in south Lebanon in 2000. Army sources also noted that the al-Manar footage gave no indication of where the bombs were located.
Ynet News quoted a source in the IDF as saying Hezbollah’s claim was “a desperate attempt to divert attention” from the terrorist organization’s own involvement in Syria.
“It’s an unsuccessful and fraudulent attempt,” he said. The source stated that the “bombs” had probably been left behind in Lebanon after Israel’s withdrawal.
Two Syrian citizens injured Wednesday morning in fighting between rebels and government forces near the Israeli border were evacuated by IDF troops to an Israeli hospital after receiving medical care from Israeli army personnel at the border. Others of those injured may also have been treated at the border or in Israel in recent days, reports indicate. One of those treated in Israel was found, when in Ziv Medical Center, to have a hand-grenade in his pocket. The hospital ER was briefly evacuated and the grenade defused.
Meanwhile, Russia has asked the UN to reconsider its offer to send troops to replace the Austrians who are withdrawing from the international body’s peacekeeping force that monitors the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces, Israel Radio reported Saturday.
Putin’s offer was quickly turned down Friday by Josephine Guerrero, spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping department. She said that while the offer was appreciated, the disengagement agreement and accompanying protocol do not allow the participation of troops from a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
The United Nations is urgently looking for troops to replace the Austrians, who made up the largest contingent, of almost 400, in the 911-member UNDOF peacekeeping force. The Philippines and India also contribute troops, and the UN is trying to convince both countries not to pull their troops out of UNDOF in the wake of Austria’s announcement that it is withdrawing its soldiers from the peacekeeping force.