Israel ups border presence as FSA, regime battle in Golan

March 21, 2013

By Ahmed Kwider

Fighting is intensifying between Syrian government forces and the FSA-led opposition in Quneitra province bordering the Golan Heights. The government is trying to recapture the villages of Khan Arnabeh and Jubata al-Khashab back from the FSA, with activists in recent days reporting “heavy bombardment” in these areas close to the Israeli border.

GOLAN“Civilans were killed and injured but we are unable to get numbers because internet service has been cut in the province,” Omar Golani, a spokesman with the Quneitra Media Center told SAS News by phone. The stepped-up bombings appear to be in response to opposition operations “to break the security surrounding Quneitra and western Outer Damascus province which have begun,” Golani said.

“The regime’s siege and bombardment on Jubata al-Khashab aims to end the resistance and peaceful protests,” said Huzaifa Omar, a journalist and activist based in Quneitra province.

“Sons of Golan”

The FSA is leading the battle in Quneitra with brigades consisting mainly of local citizens and defected soldiers. An independent Islamist group, the Messiah Brigade has a presence as well as Jabhat al-Nusra, which “has around 100 jihadists in the province, most of them the sons of the Golan,” said Shamel Golani [ed.: no relation to Omar Golani.]

Membership in Quneitra’s armed opposition is increasing, said Huzaifa Omar, “because the regime is randomly detaining people at checkpoints to force them into military service, and that pushed them to join the FSA.”

Israel on “full alert”

Right-wing media last week linked to a video by Islamist fighters in the Golan area in which they claimed to be preparing to liberate the Golan Heights from Israel. "There is a great concern that uncontrolled elements at the service of extremist ideas will manage to take over smaller or bigger separate territories inside the Syrian borders,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told the Turkish Hürriyet Daily News.

Israeli forces have increased their patrols across the border and built barricades along it, Shamel Golani said. [Read the full interview here.]

For now, neither government has reacted to cross-border provocations. Shells have fallen on the Israeli side of the border, but the Israelis have not reacted. Israel has reportedly violated Syrian air space, but the Syrians have not reacted.

Whether true or not, it is common for Syrians in the opposition to believe that the regime and Israel are allies, or at least working together to defeat the opposition. “The regime is trying to do anything to prove to the world that we have Islamists and extremists in Syria,” said Quneitra Media Center spokesman Omar Golani. “That’s why they engineered the Damascus bombings and the same applies to the shelling on Israel,” he added.

“Israel is not worried about the regime but they’re afraid of a free Syria,” said Huzaifa Omar.