GOLAN HIGHTS / BEIRUT (Reuters) – Dozens of Syrians approached the Golan Heights on Tuesday across the Israeli border to seek obvious aid or shelter from a Russian-backed Syrian army offensive before returning after a warning from Israeli forces.
Tens of thousands of Syrians arrived near the border with Israel's Golan Heights last month. They fled from a rapidly advancing offensive that had defeated rebels in a sub-area near Jordan and Israel.
"Go back before something bad happens. If you want us to help you, go back, "said an Israeli army officer on the Israeli side of a crowd's border fence in Arabic through a megaphone. "Hurry up."
The offensive has triggered the largest expulsion of the war, with several hundred thousand people uprooted. Both Israel and Jordan have stated that they will not allow Syrians to invade their territory.
Israel, which conquered the Golan in the 1967 Middle East war, has provided humanitarian aid to refugees in camps near an Israeli-Syrian 1974 retreat. Many of the displaced persons are in the protection zone, which is monitored by a US force.
The Syrians approaching the border fence stopped about 200 yards before an Israeli soldier told them to leave.
"You are on the border of the State of Israel. Go back, we do not want to hurt you, "the soldier called in Arabic through a speaker in the crowd, live Reuters showed TV material.
The crowd, which included women and children, slowly returned to the refugee camp. Some stopped in the middle of the road and waved white shawls toward the Israeli border.
The Russian-backed offensive has made rapid progress without foreign opposition from President Bashar al-Assad. The United States, which had once armed the southern rebels, told them they should not expect them to intervene when the attack began last month.
A witness on the Syrian side of the Golan border said the sound of the bombing was getting closer. The UN said last week that as many as 160,000 Syrians had fled to Quneitra province, some near the Golan area.
GOVERNMENT CELEBRATES CELEBRATE
Syrian state television program from a hill captured by rebels on Monday overlooking the Golan border. Government fighters waved rifles and held up pictures of Assad as they celebrated on-site on the mountain of al-Haara.
"We will liberate all Syria," said one of the soldiers.
Israel has threatened a harsh reaction to any attempt by the Syrian armed forces to engage in the withdrawal zone, complicating the government's approach to the border.
Israel does not want its enemies to move Iran and Hezbollah, allies of Assad, troops near the border. Iran-backed Shiite forces, including Hezbollah, were crucial to Assad's advances.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who spoke with US President Donald Trump on Monday, pointed to the need to rebuild the situation along the Golan borders with the state that existed before the outbreak of the 2011 Syrian war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urges Putin to rein in Iranian and Iranian troops in Syria.
Hezbollah-controlled al-Manar TV said the Syrian army had conquered one of the last rebel-held areas in the province of Deraa al-Aliyeh.
At least 14 people, including five children and some women, were killed when government forces bombed the nearby village of Ain al-Tineh, 10 km from the border with Golan, the Syrian Human Rights Observatory reported.
(The story was rejected to remove superfluous words in the last paragraph)
Reporting by Rami Amichay and Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Tom Perry in Beirut and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Angus MacSwan