Syrian President Bashar Assad’s loyalists from across the Arab world have reportedly formed “popular resistance” groups to fight Israel in the Golan Heights, the Sunday Times reported Sunday.
An unnamed source told the British paper that volunteers from Syria, the West Bank and other Arab countries have joined the new units, which are indirectly supported by the Syrian government and aim to “combat Israeli aggression.”
“Syria will change from a country that supports the resistance to a country of resistance,” Syrian legislator Khaled Abboud told the British publication.
In an interview to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV last week, Assad said his government had received “many Arab delegations wanting to know how young people might be enrolled to come and fight Israel.”
“There is clear popular pressure to open a new front of resistance in the Golan,” Assad said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday that Israel would defend itself if necessary against aggressors in neighboring states.
“While we have no interest in being party to the conflicts around us, we are committed to prevent threats to Israel’s security, and we have a clear policy of responding to attempted attacks against our territory,” Netanyahu said.
Tensions along the Israel-Syria border have increased in recent weeks. Stray shots and mortar shells have repeatedly fallen on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, so far causing no injuries. The IDF, last month, targeted a Syrian army post that had intentionally fired at an Israeli patrol jeep.
Also in May, Israel reportedly carried out two aerial attacks on targets in Syrian territory. The airstrikes targeted convoys of advanced weapons Syria was transferring from Iran to its Lebanese ally, the Shiite terror group Hezbollah.
Israel has also urged Russia to cancel a contract to deliver sophisticated S-300 air-defense missile batteries to Assad. Publicly, Moscow has said it will honor the deal, though some Russian media reports on Friday said it would be delayed.
Syrian officials have accused Israel of aiding rebel groups that have sought for the past two years to topple Assad, and have threatened to retaliate for any additional attacks.
In 2011, shortly after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Assad tried to divert the public’s attention from the bloodshed in the country by aiding Palestinian protesters who wished to march across the border and into Israel.