2,000 Syrian Rebels Cross Israeli Border for Medical Treatment

A well-connected Israeli Druze who has been in contact with Syrian rebel forces has told the Jerusalem Post that he has relayed a request from the rebel commander to Israel that the Israeli Air Force conduct air strikes to blunt the Syrian offensive underway since last Sunday. As reported at PJ Media, the joint Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah force has been pressing hard against rebel forces in a roughly triangular area south of Damascus, with the Syrian cities of Dara‘a and Quneitra forming the other two points of the triangle.

Mendi Safadi, an Israeli Druze citizen who served as chief of staff to former Likud deputy minister Ayoub Kara, said that he received a text message from the local rebel commander, whom he says is the commander of the largest organized force remaining of the original liberal, moderate Syrian opposition who began the civil war four years ago, before it was hijacked by the Sunni Jihadis. Safadi met with rebel leaders in Bulgaria about two weeks ago, and has opened a channel of communications, relaying messages from the rebels to the prime minister’s office.

He reports that the rebels have been hit hard by the offensive and have suffered many casualties, estimating that some 2,000 have crossed the Israeli border for medical treatment.

“The Syrian opposition contacted me yesterday [Wednesday],” Safadi said, “and asked for me to relay a message to the Israeli prime minister that Israel should give Hezbollah and Iran another hard hit in order to stop their progress. The commander relayed to me co-ordinates where Syrian and Hezbollah forces are located.”

The Syrians, who Safadi claims are receiving massive support from Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, announced on Wednesday the capture of four strategic hills and three hamlets in heavy fighting with forces whom they identified as being affiliated with al-Qaeda and Jabhat an-Nusra. Safadi’s informants deny any significant Jihadi presence in the area of the current battle area, and say that the fighting has largely been halted at present by driving snowfall.

“The battle could be lengthy,” said Abu ‘Osama al-Jolani, deputy commander of the rebel “First Army” in the area who had held the rank of major in the Syrian army before he defected to the rebel side in 2011. “It will be hit and run -- this is the system we are going to use in battle. We are not a state army defending borders....we operate a system of guerilla warfare. As far as we are concerned, land is not important,” he said, speaking to Reuters from a location near the Syrian-Jordanian frontier. Jolani also asserted that that the attackers’ losses had been likewise heavy, and that their gains in the area had been insignificant.

Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who is monitoring the fighting, put the “heavy losses” in some perspective, saying that there have been 19 confirmed dead combatants on the government side and 48 on the rebel side in four days of fighting.  Despite the relatively small area represented by the four hills and three villages which Syrian forces claim to have recaptured from the rebels, Lebanese al-Manar television, affiliated with Hezbollah, reported on Thursday that the Syrian defense minister had visited the front line.

Jolani says that despite the presence of Assad government forces, they are as yet playing no part in the fighting. “This is a very important test for the Southern Front. We ask all the states of the world to help the Syrian people and to help us the way Iran and Russia help the regime.”

Safadi, for his part, asserts that Jabhat an-Nusra has only a very small presence in the south, and adds: “Israel is only in contact with the FSA [Free Syrian Army] as it is in the country’s security interests to weaken the Islamists.” He said that the Syrian, Iranian, and Hezbollah press outlets always identify all rebel forces as affiliated with al-Qaeda and the so-called “Islamic State” of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whether it is true or not.