IDF chief: Army would act to prevent slaughter of Syrian refugees

Gadi Eisenkot says Hezbollah is in strategic distress, Syria disintegrating, war heating up close to the Israeli border

IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot at a ceremony in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot at a ceremony in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The IDF would act in the vicinity of its border to prevent the slaughter of Syrian refugees fleeing the war-torn country, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said Tuesday, likely referring principally to the Druze citizens of Syria, who fear the wrath of the ISIS militiamen.

In his first hearing before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Eisenkot said Syria was disintegrating, and voiced concern about the way the war has drawn close to Israel’s border, according to the Knesset committee’s spokesman, who briefed journalists after the meeting.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been left homeless by the civil war, and millions have fled to neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, said Eisenkot. The IDF would both provide humanitarian aid to fleeing refugees and prevent their slaughter, he said.

While Eisenkot did not specify Syria’s Druze minority, Israel’s religious community this week called on the government to assist their brethren after jihadists massacred 20 Druze in the Idlib region last week. Druze leaders in Israel say they fear the lives of tens of thousands in their community in Syria are in danger.

Thousands of Israeli Druze took to the streets in the northern towns of Isfiya and Majdal Shams Monday in a solidarity protest on behalf of members of their community caught up in the turmoil of the ongoing civil war across the border in Syria. The protest came several hours after Israel’s Druze community announced that it had collected more than NIS 10 million ($2.6 million) for the Syrian Druze to buy weapons and other necessities.

According to a report on the Walla news website on Sunday, Israel was mulling the creation of a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights in order to aid Druze refugees. The Jewish state has been in contact with a number of countries, the UN and the International Red Cross about the creation of such a humanitarian zone, security sources said.

Eisenkot on Monday said Iran’s nuclear program poses the primary security challenge to Israel. Hezbollah’s military capabilities have increased, he warned, but the group is mired in Syria, fighting with several thousand Hezbollah operatives on the ground backing Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In the West Bank, the security situation is stable, he said, and cooperation with Palestinian security forces is good. Meanwhile, in Gaza the situation is complex because of Hamas’s rival terror groups, Eisenkot said. The IDF was responding to sporadic rocket fire by closing border crossings, was working to block tunnel activity, and was working to prevent the rival terror groups from gaining military strength. Gaza extremists are growing stronger, he noted.

The army chief also said the IDF would investigate claims by army veterans in the Breaking the Silence report, which alleged that soldiers carried out actions during the Gaza summer conflict in violation of international law.

Tamar Pileggi and Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.

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