JERUSALEM, Israel – For the first time in seven years, Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have completely ousted ISIS fighters from villages in the Syrian Golan Heights, according to the regime's media outlet, SANA, and local website reports. Meanwhile, the fighting raged Tuesday in the town of Daraa, southeast of the Golan.
Assad loyalists claim to have routed ISIS rebels in the villages of Abidin, Maariyah and Sharajah, and residents in the area fear Assad will conduct a massacre of civilians who supported the rebels.
Israel has reportedly intervened with the Russian government, asking Moscow to prevent such a massacre, according to stories on Hadashot TV news and the Times of Israel.
Thousands of Syrians in the Golan received medical aid and food from Israel and Western groups, including Christian organizations, in recent years. Israel also treated hundreds of Syrian children at Israeli field hospitals.
At the request of the US and Canada, Israel also evacuated some 400 "White Helmets" (Syrian relief workers) and their family members through Israel to safety in Jordan. Hundreds more were left behind, and they are the ones believed to be at high risk as the regime solidifies its hold in the area along the Israeli border.
One young worker, 20 year-old Daman Ayad, told Israel's YNet news, "Our fate is worse than that of army defectors."
Israel's government has been adamant that Assad's Iranian allies have no military role in Syria. But Russia's ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorove said on Israel's Channel 10 that Iran plays "a very, very important role in our common and joint efforts to eliminate terrorists in Syria." Viktorov suggested that Russia can discuss Israel's demand for full Iranian withdrawal from Syria, but "we cannot force them."
That could set up an eventual showdown between Israel and Iran or Syria if Russian military leaders are unwilling to keep Iran at bay.