UN calls for armed groups to leave Golan area separating Israel-Syria forces
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UNDOF's Golan ceasefire mandate renewed for 6 more months

UN calls for armed groups to leave Golan area separating Israel-Syria forces

Call comes as Assad presses offensive against rebels in the area, causing tens of thousands of civilians to flee toward Jordan and Israel

A Syrian government forces' soldier smokes a cigarette on an armored vehicle during a government guided tour in the village of al-Sourah, province of Daraa, on June 29, 2018.
(AFP PHOTO / Youssef KARWASHAN)
A Syrian government forces' soldier smokes a cigarette on an armored vehicle during a government guided tour in the village of al-Sourah, province of Daraa, on June 29, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Youssef KARWASHAN)

UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council on Friday unanimously renewed for six months its mission to observe the ceasefire in the Golan Heights, calling for armed groups to leave the area separating Syrian and Israeli forces.

“There should be no military forces in the area of separation other than those of UNDOF,” read the resolution drafted by the United States and Russia. UNDOF, which comprises nearly 1,000 personnel, was created in 1974 after an agreement on the departure of Israeli and Syrian forces from the Golan.

The nearby area has become a focus point in recent days as Syrian government forces have launched an assault on rebels in the area causing tens of thousands of Syrians to flee since the beginning of the offensive. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said that nearly 100 civilians have been killed.

Israel transferred several dozen tons of humanitarian aid to refugee encampments in southwestern Syria in an overnight operation late Thursday. The IDF said it would likely continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the area, but insisted it would not allow Syrian refugees to cross the border.

IDF officers on the Golan Heights managing an operation on June 28, 2018 to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in tent encampments in southwestern Syria. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Israel captured most of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War. In 1981, it annexed the area in a move unrecognized by the international community, while a smaller part of the area is under Syrian control.

The UN text condemned “the continued fighting in the area of separation” and called on “all parties to the Syrian domestic conflict to cease military actions in the UNDOF area of operations.”

It “stresses the obligation on both parties to scrupulously and fully respect the terms of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement.”

“There should be no military activity of any kind in the area of separation,” either by the Syrian military or opposition forces, it said.

Syrian government forces soldiers hold their weapons at the back of a pick-up truck during a government guided tour in the village of al-Sourah, province of Daraa, on June 29, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Youssef KARWASHAN)

Also Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a new call for “an immediate cessation” to military operations in southwest Syria, where government forces are attacking rebel-held areas.

Guterres is “deeply alarmed by the military offensive in southwestern Syria and its devastating toll on civilians,” said a statement from his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“The secretary-general recalls that the southwest area of Syria is part of a de-escalation agreement agreed between Jordan, Russia and the United States,” the statement said.

Guterres “calls on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law, protect civilians and facilitate safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference after his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on June 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Yuri Kadobnov)

The UN chief had made a similar call earlier this month, after Russian-backed government forces began attacking opposition-held parts of Daraa province on June 19.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said following the IDF aid operation that Israel was “prepared to provide any humanitarian assistance to civilians, women and children,” but stressed that “we will not accept any Syrian refugees into our territory.”

A number of camps have been set up in the area, but these generally lack access to fresh water, electricity and other basic needs. In many cases, these camps are overflowing, without sufficient shelters. Some Syrians are reportedly sleeping outside at night.

Syrians displaced by government forces’ bombardment in the southern Daraa province countryside drive near the town of Shayyah, south of the city of Daraa, towards the border with Israel on June 29, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Mohamad ABAZEED)

The army said it shipped the supplies to four camps simultaneously in the southern and central Syrian Golan Heights.

“In these camps, located near the border, there are several thousand Syrians living in deteriorating conditions, without access to water, electricity, food sources or basic necessities. In recent days, there’s been an increase in the number of Syrians living in these camps,” the IDF said.

Tractors load humanitarian supplies from the IDF onto a truck being sent to Syrian refugees in tent encampments in southwestern Syria, on June 28, 2018 on the Golan Heights. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Signaling that the humanitarian crisis is likely to deepen, UN officials said that because of the fighting, no aid has entered from Jordan to reach the estimated 50,000 people displaced since Tuesday. Jordan, which is already hosting 660,000 registered refugees, says it cannot accept any more and has sealed its border, despite appeals from aid groups.

Near the Golan Heights, scores of the newly-displaced raised banners in protest. Thousands have fled to the area, saying they thought the proximity to Israeli forces would deter Syrian air raids. One activist said the camps are about three kilometers (two miles) from the frontier.

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