Facing possible Syrian influx, Druze MK calls to set up refugee camp on border

Opposition lawmaker Saleh Saad says ‘the State of Israel cannot remain indifferent to the humanitarian situation,’ as Assad’s army bombards south

Smoke rises above opposition held areas of the city of Daraa during airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on June 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamad ABAZEED)
Smoke rises above opposition held areas of the city of Daraa during airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on June 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamad ABAZEED)

An opposition MK called on the government Thursday to set up a temporary refugee camp to provide humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of people displaced from their homes in southern Syria by the Assad regime, who Israel estimates may arrive on its border.

“The situation on the Syrian Golan Heights cries out for a creative solution,” Zionist Union MK Saleh Saad said in a statement. “The State of Israel cannot remain indifferent to the humanitarian situation of the displaced citizens.”

“I would like to propose as a solution that we establish a temporary town on the border for the Syrian refugees which will provide humanitarian necessities until the international community can decide on a permanent solution,” he said.

Saleh, from northern Israel, is a member of the Druze community.

Zionist Union MK Saleh Saad at the National Labor Court in Jerusalem on December 5, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel is preparing for the possibility that an onslaught by the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad could see tens of thousands of Syrian refugees heading for the Israel border. The IDF is gearing up to prevent a mass breach of the frontier, but also to provide humanitarian aid to the displaced, according to military sources.

With Russia’s help, Assad’s army has battered the south for more than a week with air strikes, rocket fire, and crude barrel bombs, forcing more than 50,000 people to flee in search of safety. Many of them have fled toward the border with Israel, saying it was the safest option as the regime wouldn’t dare strike in that area and risk angering Jerusalem.

The UN has warned that more than 750,000 lives are at risk in the south, which is meant to be protected by a ceasefire put in place last year by Russia, Jordan and the United States.

Syrians displaced by government forces’ bombardment in the southern Daraa province countryside ride in tractors and trucks near the town of Shayyah, south of the city of Daraa, towards the border area between the Golan heights and Syria on June 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamad ABAZEED)

Most of the 50,000-plus people who already fled have headed to the sealed Jordanian border. Officials in Nawa, a rebel-held town heavily hit in strikes on Thursday, issued a statement asking Jordan to take in refugees.

But Amman has said the border will remain closed. The kingdom already hosts more than 650,000 registered Syrian refugees and estimates the actual number is closer to 1.3 million.

With Jordan closed, Jerusalem fears the refugees could head to the Israeli border.

While only several dozen refugees had set up tent camps near the Israeli frontier in the town of Quneitra as of Thursday, Israel was preparing for a range of scenarios, the sources said.

One possible development feared by Israel was masses of refugees banding together to try and break through the border fence, Hadashot news reported. Security officials feared that in such a scenario, terrorists could also try to sneak their way into the country.

“No Syrian refugee will enter Israel, but we will help where we can on the humanitarian level,” a senior official was quoted as saying by Channel 10 news.

A displaced Syrian girl from the Daraa province fleeing shelling by pro-government forces, carries a toddler in a makeshift camp in the province of Quneitra, southwestern Syria, near the border with the Golan Heights, on June 22, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamad ABAZEED)

In recent years, Israel has given extensive humanitarian support to civilians on the Syrian side of the border, who are mostly affiliated with the rebels in the Syrian civil war. Israel has provided food and medicine, and thousands of wounded Syrians have entered Israel for life-saving medical treatment.

Rebels hold a horseshoe-shaped band of territory in the south spanning most of Daraa and the Quneitra province to west.

They also control southern districts of the city of Daraa, known as the cradle of Syria’s seven-year uprising.

The remainder is held by government forces, who also control most of the Druze-majority southern Syrian city of Sweida to the east.

Despite an internationally brokered ceasefire in place since 2017, the regime began ramping up bombardment of rebel-held towns in Daraa on June 19.

Russian warplanes began raids on Saturday and on Tuesday the two air forces launched bombing operations against rebel-held neighborhoods of the provincial capital.

Michael Bachner and AFP contributed to this report.

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