Israel has never accepted refugees since the fighting began in neighbouring Syria in 2011, but has provided aid to civilians near its borders as well as some support for Syrian rebel groups in the south.
However, the intense fighting in Deraa has put a fresh focus on Israel’s policy towards Syrian refugees, some of whom are now sleeping in the opening just a few hundred yards from Israeli military positions.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said they delivered 13 tons of food, 15 tons of baby food, three pallets of medical equipment and medicine and 30 tons of clothing to Syrian refugees on Thursday night.
“Several thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing the hostilities are living under poor conditions in these camps near the Israeli border, often lacking access to water, electricity, sources of food or other basic necessities,” the military said.
Last night, during a special operation, humanitarian aid was transferred to Syrians fleeing hostilities who are living in tent camps throughout the Syrian Golan Heights pic.twitter.com/k81H4ZeRvs
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) June 29, 2018
However, it stressed that it would not allow Syrians to cross the border fence and come into the Golan. “The IDF cannot permit Syrians fleeing hostilities to enter Israel and will continue maintaining Israel’s security interests,” the military said.
Jan Egeland, a UN humanitarian advisor on Syria, said this week that he considered the Israeli borders to be “hermetically sealed” and was focusing instead on convincing Jordan to re-open its borders to fleeing Syrians.
Jordan is already hosting more than a million Syrian refugees and has said it cannot accept any more, despite pleas from aid groups that there is room in existing UN refugee camps.
Many Syrians would be deeply reluctant to take shelter in Israeli-controlled territory, even in a desperate situation.
Israel is widely thought of as an enemy by most people in Syria, although perceptions have become more mixed among supporters of the opposition as Israel has fought against the Assad regime and delivered aid.
The effort by Israel’s military to aid Syrian civilians is known as “Good Neighbour”. Around 5,000 Syrian civilians have made the short but perilous journey into Israel to receive medical treatment. Afterwards being treated in an Israeli hospital they return back into Syria.
Anyone accepting aid from Israel risks being labelled a “collaborator” by the regime and faces potential arrest if they end up in regime-controlled territory.
“Some ignorant people say we’re collaborators, they consider us traitors. These journeys are difficult for us and we’re afraid,” a Syrian doctor told The Telegraph last year. “But it’s all politics, the Syrian people want to live in peace with Israel.”
At least 46 civilians have been killed in the fighting since June 19, according to the UN. An airstrike by the Syrian regime or Russia on Thursday reportedly killed 17 civilians, including at least nine children.
Several hospitals in Deraa have also been bombed. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN human rights commissioners, called on all Syrian factions to stop using civilians as “pawns”.
He said his office had reports that regime forces were only allowing civilians to pass through their territory for a fee, while fighters from the remnants of Islamic State (Isil) were preventing civilians fleeing altogether.