IDF attacks Syrian regime position after shell hits in buffer zone

IDF attacks Syrian regime position after shell hits in buffer zone

Israeli army stresses it will insist on maintenance of 1974 ceasefire deal, which set up demilitarized zone between Israel, Syria

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An IDF tank deployed to the Golan Heights, near the Syria border, on July 1, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
An IDF tank deployed to the Golan Heights, near the Syria border, on July 1, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli military attacked a Syrian position on Friday after a mortar shell exploded in the buffer zone between the two countries, in what the military said was a violation of a 1974 ceasefire agreement.

“The IDF attacked a Syrian outpost from which a mortar shell was fired that landed in the buffer zone, east of and close to the fence,” the army said in a statement.

The military said the mortar shell was fired during the ongoing battles between Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s forces and opposition groups in the area. The army would not say if it believed the shelling from Syria was intentionally directed at the buffer zone or if it was a stray shot from nearby fighting.

The Israel Defense Forces said it would continue to hold Assad’s regime responsible for upholding the 1974 ceasefire agreement between the two countries, which ended the previous year’s Yom Kippur War.

Under the armistice, a demilitarized zone was established between Israel and Syria.

While Israel says this is not its primary goal, the area’s status as a demilitarized zone has made it a de facto safe haven for residents of southern Syria. As a result, tens of thousands of Syrians began fleeing toward this buffer zone to escape a renewed offensive by Assad’s forces, with help from Russia and Iran-backed Shiite militias.

Smoke rises above rebel-held areas of the city of Daraa during reported airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on July 5, 2018. (AFP/Mohamad Abazeed)

Bombing raids by the Russian and Syrian air forces, along with a ground offensive, have resulted in dozens of deaths and the displacement of more than 300,000 Syrians, according to UN assessments.

“The IDF is not involved in the internal fighting in Syria. At the same time, it will continue to demand the implementation of the ceasefire agreements from 1974, including the preservation of the buffer zone,” the army said.

The tens of thousands of displaced Syrians who have made their way toward the Israeli Golan Heights, have settled in overflowing, under-resourced tent cities near the border. In some cases, the displaced person camps are located a few hundred meters from the security fence, clearly visible from Israel.

IDF officials have said they do not expect masses of Syrians to attempt to breach the security fence in search of refuge. Syrians in the area have called for both Israel and Jordan to open their borders or to establish safe zones where they can remain without fear of bombings by Syria or Russia.

The Walla news site on Wednesday reported that Israel was quietly working with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, which is meant to keep the peace between Israel and Syria, in order to set up such safe zones near the border.

Israel, which has technically been at war with Syria since 1948, has offered humanitarian assistance to residents of the country’s southwest in the past two weeks, including taking in dozens of injured Syrians for medical treatment, but has repeatedly stated that it will not allow refugees to cross the border.

Israeli army medics provide care to an injured Syrian child who was brought into Israel for medical treatment on June 29, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The IDF is tracking what is happening in Syria and is prepared for a variety of scenarios in order to protect the security situation along the border. The IDF will continue to provide humanitarian aid to residents of the area in Syrian territory, and will also prevent the entrance of refugees into the territory of the State of Israel,” the army said Wednesday.

Since the start of Assad’s offensive, more than 30 towns in Daraa have surrendered, while others have rebuffed offers for so-called “reconciliation” and vowed to fight.

More than 350,000 people have been killed since Syria’s brutal civil war began in 2011, with millions more displaced. All international calls to halt the offensive in Daraa have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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