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Israel has been secretly supplying Syrian rebel groups for years: report

Israeli soldiers in a tank monitor the Israel-Syria border in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, on November 27, 2016
Jalaa Marey (AFP)
Effort is aimed at keeping Iranian proxies away from the border, Wall Street Journal reports

Israel has been supplying Syrian rebel groups in the Golan Heights with funding, medical supplies, food and hard cash in an effort to create a security buffer to protect the country’s border from the maelstrom of the Syrian civil war, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) set up a military unit that is specifically tasked with supporting certain independent rebel groups who are not currently backed by Western powers, the Journal reported, adding that Israel provides money which the groups use to pay fighters and buy weapons.

The report cited interviews with a dozen rebel soldiers and several sources it said were knowledgeable of the Israeli effort.

Moatasem al-Golani, a spokesman with the rebel group Fursan al-Joulan, lauded Israel’s assistance to his group.

“Israel stood by our side in a heroic way,” he was quoted as saying. “We wouldn’t have survived without Israel’s assistance.”

The group’s commander said they receive around $5,000 per month in Israeli financial assistance. Members of the group, which is said to be the primary rebel faction coordinating with Israel, said the relationship began in 2013. Fursan al-Joulan has around 400 members who loosely work with other groups in the area that also receive some measure of Israeli assistance.

The Journal reported that those familiar with Israel said that Israel's policy in Syria is geared towards ensuring that the various Iranian-allied militant groups operating in Syria, most notably the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah, are kept well away from Israeli territory including the Golan Heights that Israel took control of during the Six Day War in 1967.

Israel has often responded to stray rocket and mortar fire that has landed in Israeli territory from Syria, by attacking small targets across the border. Earlier this year, the Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad fired anti-aircraft missiles at Israel Air Force fighter jets as they were reportedly returning from a strike mission in Syria.

According to international media reports, Israel has carried out several air strikes against targets in Syria, most commonly against Hezbollah weapons stockpiles or convoys, in order to prevent their transfer to Lebanon where they could be used to fire on Israel in a future war.

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