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Israel announces 'end to Syria humanitarian aid'

Israel's assistance began in 2013 [Getty]

Date of publication: 14 September, 2018

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Israel said it would end a humanitarian aid programme for Syria dubbed "Operation Good Neighbour".

The Israeli army announced it was ending an operation it says was aimed at providing Syrian civilians with humanitarian and medical aid in the occupied Golan Heights, reports confirmed on on Thursday.

Israel has had a policy of offering aid to Syrians who reach its lines, alleging it was doing so without getting involved in the conflict.

"This humanitarian aid has ended with the return of the Syrian regime in the southern part of Syria," the Israeli army said a statement.

In the past five years, 4,900 Syrian civilians including 1,300 children have been treated in Israeli hospitals, and 7,000 at a field hospital near the Golan ceasefire line, it said.

Food, medical equipment, medicine, tents, generators, fuel and clothes were provided to them as part of what the Israeli army dubbed "Operation Good Neighbour".

Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria around 50 years ago before annexing it in 1981, in a move never recognised by the international community.

It still occupies nearly 70 percent of the strategic plateau.

Israel says it has sought to stay out of the war in Syria, with which it remains technically at war, but it has repeatedly carried out airstrikes against forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies, Lebanon's Hizballah and Iran.

But earlier this month, a Foreign Policy magazine report said Syrian fighters targeting Iranian paramilitaries who received small payments and weapons deliveries from Tel Aviv, had their funding stopped in July.

Some rebels were paid $75 a month, plus money to buy weapons on the Syrian black market.

the funds reportedly received from Israel created an expectation among those who received them that Tel Aviv would intervene if Bashar al-Assad's troops tried to advance in southern Syria.

Some rebels reached out to their Israeli military contacts to ask for asylum, but Israeli officials only allowed a handful of rebel commanders and their family members to enter Israel.

Others are reported to have travelled on to Jordan and Turkey.

It is understood Israeli authorities had established contact with Syrian rebels by offering to treat several injured fighters in Israeli hospitals as early as 2013, according to interviews carried out by the Wall Street Journal.

The motivation was not purely humanitarian - with Tel Aviv flatly denying Syrian requests for asylum since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011. But Israel's assistance to rebel groups expanded significantly last year, coinciding with a more aggressive Israeli policy to keep Iranian-backed militias away from southern Syria, after a deal between the US, Russia, and Israel failed to materialise.

Israel itself has carried out some 200 strikes in Syria over the past 18 months against mainly Iranian targets, and maintained military relations with Syrian fighters to create an anti-Iran buffer zone on the other side of the Golan Heights illegally occupied by Israel.

More than 360,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict since it erupted in March 2011 with protests against Assad's regime.

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