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Israel, Jordan send aid across closed border with Syria

Tania Krämer
July 3, 2018

Since a major offensive by the Assad regime in southwestern Syria, thousands more Syrians are attempting to escape the disaster zones – but neighboring Jordan and Israeli-occupied Golan Heights have shut their borders.

Syrian refugees on the Syria-Jordan border
Syrian refugees on the Syria-Jordan border Image: picture-alliance/Xinhua/M. A. Ghosh

The Syrian part of the Golan Heights is only a few kilometers away from here, behind rusty barbed wire and a highly secured fence. It runs along the ceasefire line that winds through the hilly landscape on the Golan Heights annexed by Israel. From here you can see tents and emergency shelters built with plastic tarps.

Almost daily Dubi Hadar comes to this spot with his camera and looks at the other side. "For three years now, we have seen refugees coming here," he says.

But in the last few days the number of tents has increased considerably, says Hadar, who has lived on the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan for many years. He often comes to this place with visitors to show how close together everything is.

Two Israelis looking out over the border of the Golan Heights with Syria
Hadar documenting the Syrian refugees approaching the Golan border area Image: DW/T. Kraemer

Now you can see people on the Syrian side building emergency shelters around the village of Bariqa. Dull impacts can be heard from a distance every minute: Forces allied with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are sending fighter jets to bomb the area. Again and again, black smoke rises on the horizon.

'De-escalation zone' doesn't hold

Since mid-June 2018, Assad's troops and allies have been launching a major offensive against the city of Dera'a, where the uprising against the dictator began in 2011, and against the province of the same name. It is considered one of the last strongholds of opposition groups.

According to media reports, the Syrian army, supported by Russia and Iran, has already occupied more than half of the area. The fighting continues, even though the area lies in the so-called de-escalation zone agreed upon last year by the US, Russia and Jordan. Now people are seeking shelter near the Jordanian border and close to the Israeli-occupied Golan.

Israeli troops on the Golan Heights border with Syria
Israeli troops have fortified their defenses on the Golan borderImage: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Yefimovich

Closed borders

But that's as far as they'll get, because both countries keep their borders tightly closed. The small country of Jordan has already taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, and now says it will not let any more people in. Medical aid from Jordan does not appear to have made it across the border into Syria.

Syrians coming into the area appear to hope that the proximity to Israel will protect them and that Assad's troops will not bomb them there. But according to a spokesman for the Israeli army, the area is not an official buffer zone.

Aid organizations warn that the situation for the people east of the fence is terrible. "They are in a desperate situation and are lacking almost everything," says Gal Lusky, founder of the Israeli organization Israel Flying Aid. "There's not enough shelter, no water, no food, and people need to find a place that gives them some safety."

In stark contrast to Jordan, Israel has not taken in any refugees since the beginning of the civil war. Since 2013, however, Israel has covertly treated several thousand Syrians who were injured in the war in Israeli hospitals and at an army field hospital. The "Good Neighbor" mission has also been providing humanitarian aid to Syria for five years. 

Read more: Angela Merkel to talk refugee policy in trip to Jordan, Lebanon

Syrian refugees on the Syria-Jordan border
Around 300,000 Syrians are fleeing their homes in the country's southwestern region aloneImage: picture-alliance/AA/A. A. Ali

Israel 'will continue to defend' its borders

On Friday, the Israeli army announced that it had taken 300 tents and several tons of food, medicine and clothing to the other side overnight.

"Several thousand Syrian civilians who have fled the conflict live here under the most difficult conditions near the Israeli border – without access to water, electricity, food and other necessary things," the statement said.

Several seriously injured Syrians were also admitted to Israeli clinics. But in general, refugees would not be accepted.

"We will continue to defend our borders," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday. At the same time, "humanitarian aid should be facilitated as far as possible."

But: There will be "no admission to Israel."

Helping relatives in Syria