Rebels discussing evacuation from Israel border

Area around Beit Jin is sensitive because of its location next to Israel-occupied Golan Heights

15:29 December 28, 2017

Beirut: Syrian rebels in a pocket of land near where the Syrian, Lebanese and Israeli borders meet are negotiating a deal with the government to leave for other insurgent-held areas, rebel officials there said.

The Syrian regime’s army, backed by Russian air power, Shiite militias supported by Iran and local fighters from the Druze sect have besieged the rebel enclave around Beit Jin for weeks.

In recent days it captured various positions, leaving the rebels trapped inside the town itself. “There is now negotiation on the departure of fighters and those who wish to leave with them,” said Abu Kanaan, an official in a local rebel group.

“The militias are trying to convince them to evacuate to Idlib ... There has been no agreement reached yet,” said Ebrahim Al Jebawi, an official with a Free Syrian Army faction familiar with the situation.

The regime’s army and its allies have increasingly pushed for such evacuation deals for rebel enclaves near big cities or in other strategic locations after long periods of siege and bombardment.

The area around Beit Jin is sensitive because of its location next to the Israel-occupied Golan Heights.

Regime advance in Idlib

Meanwhile, regime forces have retaken several villages in northwestern Syria, a monitor said yesterday, a move that could tee up an offensive against the last major rebel bastion of Idlib.

Idlib, which borders Turkey, is the only major region in the country still completely beyond government control. Fierce clashes have in recent days pitted regime forces against Fateh Al Sham Front, a former Al Qaida affiliate.