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Israeli official said to meet with secular Syrian opposition

High-level contacts reportedly held in unnamed Western country between 2012-2014, focused on common foes, including Iran, Hezbollah

Illustrative: Smoke rises following an explosion in Syria's Quneitra province as Syrian rebels clash with Assad regime forces, seen from the Golan Heights in 2014. (AP/Ariel Schalit, File)
Illustrative: Smoke rises following an explosion in Syria's Quneitra province as Syrian rebels clash with Assad regime forces, seen from the Golan Heights in 2014. (AP/Ariel Schalit, File)

A senior Israeli official met on several occasions over the past few years with leaders from the secular Syrian opposition in an unnamed Western country, the Hebrew-language website Walla reported on Friday.

According to the report, the meetings took place between 2012 and 2014, and were the highest level of their kind since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in March 2011.

The Israeli official was not named.

The Syrian side was represented by opposition groups fighting both the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and radical terror groups, the report said.

The senior Israeli official and the Syrian representatives were not in continuous contact but rather held several pinpoint meetings, according to the report, where discussions focused on common foes, including Iran, Hezbollah and Sunni terror organizations.

“The important aspect of these meetings is the existence of dialogue, and the fact that the dialogue was given a stamp of approval in the form of a presence of a senior Israeli official,” Walla quoted a person with knowledge of the talks as saying.

“There are people in the Syrian opposition who’d like to see us pick sides, but to most of them it’s clear that this is not even on the table for us. Israel can supply humanitarian help, not more,” the source said.

Another unnamed Israeli official cited in the report said that “the problem with secular forces opposing Assad is that — for all their good intentions — they have no real power on the ground.”

Israeli soldiers walk past vehicles of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) near the town of Majdal Shams, on the Golan Heights, April 27, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/JALAA MAREY)
Israeli soldiers walk past vehicles of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) near the town of Majdal Shams, on the Golan Heights, April 27, 2015. (AFP/JALAA MAREY)

Since protests in Syria, spurred by the Arab Spring, deteriorated into a full-fledged civil war in 2011, the Assad regime, allied with Iran and Hezbollah, has been fighting several different opponents.

But the opposition groups fighting Syrian government forces are also fragmented and often battle each other. The Islamic State’s emergence in Iraq and Syria has brought it to a dominant position among the anti-Assad groups. Some of the rebel groups are now fighting IS while others pledged allegiance to the jihadist group or were consumed by the radical Sunni organization.

Officially, Israel steers clear of intervening in the Syrian civil war, but it does provide first aid and medical treatment to injured Syrians who make it across the border, including combatants, according to some reports.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon seen during an army exercise of the IDF Kfir Brigade, in the Golan Heights in northern Israel, April 2, 2015. (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon seen during an army exercise of the IDF Kfir Brigade, in the Golan Heights in northern Israel, April 2, 2015. (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)

Earlier this week, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey that there were “some 30 terror groups active inside Syria” and that Israel would refrain from acting against them so long as they avoid targeting the Israeli side of the border.

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