Hundreds of Syrian soldiers near the border with Israel abandoned their posts Thursday, in the latest sign of Damascus losing control of the Syrian Golan heights.
Some 170 soldiers guarding near the town of Kuneitra, a few kilometers from the border with Israel, left their posts, according to a report in Al Arabiya.
Fighting in Syria’s south has intensified over the last several days, with United Nations peacekeepers stationed between Israel and Syria becoming caught in the fighting.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters after briefing the Security Council Tuesday that the UN force has had to reduce its “footprint” on the Golan Heights, cutting back patrols and adopting a “much more static” role. In addition, the UN has increased protection for the force, bringing in more armored cars and personal equipment, he said.
The southern outskirts of Damascus also saw heavy fighting Thursday.
Activists said Syrian rebels attacked army checkpoints in and around a key southern town that is a gateway to Damascus.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel attacks were under way in Dael and surrounding areas. The Local Coordination Committees, another activists group, said a regime bombardment of Dael killed at least three people on Thursday.
Dael lies in the strategic Daraa province, which borders Jordan.
The fighting comes as Mideast powers opposed to President Bashar Assad have stepped up weapons supplies to Syrian rebels in coordination with the US in preparation for a push on the Syrian capital.
On Thursday, a riot broke out at a refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan after some of the refugees were told they could not return home.
Ali Bibi, a UNHCR liaison officer in Jordan, said it was unclear how many refugees were involved in Thursday’s melee at the Zaatari camp. The riot broke out after some Syrians in the camp tried to board buses to go back to their country.
He said Jordanian authorities refused to let the buses head to the border because of ongoing clashes between the rebels and President Bashar Assad’s forces in southern Syria, just across the border from Jordan.
Bibi said there were no immediate reports of injuries.
He said Jordanian authorities promised to organize the refugees’ return home at another time.
The UN says Syria’s two-year civil war has killed more than 70,000 people, and created over a million refugees.