Fire follows an explosion at the Syrian side of the Israeli Syrian border as it is seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel, July 26 2018. Picture: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD
Fire follows an explosion at the Syrian side of the Israeli Syrian border as it is seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel, July 26 2018. Picture: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD

Jerusalem/Amman — Israel and Jordan said on Thursday their forces had killed Islamic State (IS) insurgents who approached their borders after being squeezed out of southwestern Syria by the army of President Bashar al-Assad.

In a nod to his battlefield gains, Israel described victory by Assad, who is on a last push to restore his rule after more than seven years of civil war, as a fait accompli that could calm the Golan Heights.

The strategic plateau divides Israel and Syria, old foes, and saw decades of stable stand-off before the Syrian rebellion.

Meanwhile, in a major change to the preconflict 2011 status quo, Russian military police began deploying on the Syrian-held Golan and planned to set up eight observation posts in the area, the defence ministry in Moscow said.

After weeks of intensive Russian-backed bombing, Syrian forces have seized the lush farmland where the Yarmouk River flows that was once controlled by a group affiliated to IS known as the Khaled Bin Walid Army.

The Israeli military said it carried out an air strike on the Golan on Wednesday night, killing seven insurgents it believed were from the Khaled Bin Walid Army and en route to attack an Israeli target.

Separately, the Jordan military said it had clashed with encroaching Khaled Bin Walid Army fighters for 24 hours, killing an unspecified number.

"We applied rules of engagement and members of the Daesh [Islamic State] gang were forced to retreat inside Syria," an army source told Jordanian state news agency Petra.

Change of tone

Assad’s sweep of southwest Syria drove hundreds of thousands of refugees towards Israel and Jordan, alarming both.

As tensions peaked last week, Israel shot down a Syrian warplane it said had strayed into the Israeli-occupied Golan and warned Assad’s Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah reinforcements against trying to deploy on the Syrian-held side.

Military might: Bashar al-Assad’s forces have squeezed Islamic State insurgents out of Syria in a move seen as a final push for him to regain control and restore his rule after more than seven years of civil war. Picture: REUTERS
Military might: Bashar al-Assad’s forces have squeezed Islamic State insurgents out of Syria in a move seen as a final push for him to regain control and restore his rule after more than seven years of civil war. Picture: REUTERS

But Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman was more upbeat on Thursday, describing an Assad win as a given.

"From our perspective, the situation is returning to how it was before the civil war, meaning there is a real address, someone responsible, and central rule," Lieberman told reporters during a tour of air defence units in northern Israel.

Asked whether Israel should be less wary of possible flare-ups on the Golan — much of which it seized from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognised abroad — Lieberman said: "I believe so. This is also in Assad’s interest."

There was no immediate Syrian government response to the border clashes reported by Jordan and Israel on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, confirmed fighting between Assad’s forces and IS on the Syrian-held Golan, which also abuts Jordan.

In Moscow, the Russian defence ministry said its deployment of military police on the Syrian-held Golan was aimed at supporting a decades-old UN peacekeeper presence.

It said the new Russian posts would be handed over to the Syrian government once the situation had stabilised.

Lieberman said for there to be long-term quiet between Israel and Syria, Assad must abide by a 1974 UN-monitored armistice that set up demilitarised zones on the Golan.

Lieberman reiterated Israel’s demand that Iran not set up military bases against it in Syria, nor that Syria be used to smuggle arms to Hezbollah guerrillas in neighbouring Lebanon.

Reuters