UN: Israel interacting with rebels on Syrian border

UNDOF peacekeepers detail cooperation between IDF troops and insurgents in the Golan Heights

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz uses binoculars as he tours the Israel-Syria border on May 21, 2013. (photo credit: Tal Manor/IDF Spokesman/Flash 90) (illustrative)
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz uses binoculars as he tours the Israel-Syria border on May 21, 2013. (photo credit: Tal Manor/IDF Spokesman/Flash 90) (illustrative)

Reports presented to the United Nations Security Council reveal numerous interactions between Israeli troops and rebel groups on the Israel-Syrian border over the past year and a half.

UN observers in the Golan Heights meticulously detailed instances of contact between IDF soldiers and rebels, including Syrians being sent into Israel for medical treatment, and the transfer of items and containers, according to records maintained by the UN disengagement force in the Golan demilitarized zone.

The reports were first detailed by Israeli daily Haaretz on Sunday.

Most of the dispatches report on cross-border incidents, though several also detail numbers of people sent from Syrian fighting into Israel for medical treatment.

“During periods of heavy engagement with Syrian forces, [rebel groups] transferred 89 wounded persons across the ceasefire line to the IDF,” a May 2014 dispatch reads, adding later that “the IDF handed 19 treated and two deceased individuals” back to the insurgents.

On another occasion, also dated May 2014, UN monitors observed IDF troops “handing over two boxes to armed members of the opposition” on the Syrian side.

The IDF spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

A convoy of United Nations Disengagement Observer Force vehicles is seen as it leaves the Syrian side of the Golan Heights into Israel on September 15, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/JALAA MAREY)
A convoy of United Nations Disengagement Observer Force vehicles leaving the Syrian side of the Golan Heights for Israel, September 15, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Jalaa Marey)

The reports use “armed members of the opposition” as a blanket term to describe rebel and jihadi groups operating against the Syrian government.

Many of the interactions detail Syrian fighters and civilians seeking medical treatment on the Israeli side of the border, including as recently as November when at least “10 wounded persons were transferred by [rebels]” to the IDF.

One case portrays a person wounded in an explosion, who was then taken by insurgents across the ceasefire line and transferred to a civilian ambulance escorted by an IDF vehicle, in September 2013.

A June 2013 memorandum notes that Israel’s “Liaison Officer informed UNDOF that the IDF had provided emergency medical treatment to 20 armed members of the opposition, all of whom had been returned to the Syrian side.”

Israel has accepted Syrians for medical treatment for years, setting up a field hospital next to the DMZ, and transferring more seriously injured patients to other medical facilities in the north of the country.

Since last year, more than 700 wounded Syrians have been treated in Israeli hospitals via the Syria-Israel border crossing.

Israeli officials have refused to identify who they treat and whether they are regime forces, rebels or civilians.

UNDOF has patrolled the buffer zone between Syria and Israel since 1974, a year after the Yom Kippur War, helping to maintain a ceasefire between the two countries.

With the onset of the Syrian civil war in recent years, peacekeepers have been attacked multiple times by jihadist groups such as the al-Nusra Front, who have taken control of most of the Syrian side of the border.

In September, the United Nations secured the release of 45 UNDOF soldiers, kidnapped in August by the al-Qaeda-linked group, through the payment of a $25-million ransom by Qatar, an Israeli TV report claimed.

Nine hundred and thirty UN monitors remain stationed in the buffer zone, according to the UN website, although the force has abandoned many of its positions along the front and transferred its headquarters to Israel.

Due to its reduced capacity and limited abilities, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recommended reducing the force by some 200 troops, according to the UN tribune.

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