Israeli minister warns Syria not to move forces into border zone

JERUSALEM – Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan warned Syria on Thursday that Israel could attack Syrian forces if they were deployed in a border zone subject to a 44-year-old UN demilitarization agreement, building on their rout of Syrian rebels in the region.

Backed by Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad launched an offensive last month to regain the southern Deraa region, driving thousands of . Israel reinforced its tanks and artillery there as a precaution.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week, called on Sunday for the preservation of a 1974 Israeli-Syrian armistice barring or limiting military build-ups by either side around the Golan.

"We must verify and do everything to clarify, vis-a-vis the Russians, the Assad government, that we will not accept any armed presence by the Assad regime in the areas which are meant to be demilitarized," Erdan told Israeli media on Thursday.

Asked if Israel was prepared to take preventive action against the Syrian military, Erdan said: "Unequivocally, yes."

He cited, as precedents, Israeli air strikes carried out in recent months against Syrian facilities deemed to have been used in attacks on Israel or by Assad‘s Iranian reinforcements.

"Here, too, if there is a violation, and certainly in the southern Syrian region which is close to the citizens of the State of Israel, and a bringing of weaponry that should not be there, Israel will take action," Erdan said.

A March report on the activities of the UN Disengagement and Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan said Syria‘s military maintained positions which violated the 1974 accord, as did Israel’s deployment of 155 mm artillery, Iron Dome anti-missile systems and related equipment.

Neighboring Jordan also feels threatened by the Deraa offensive, which the United Nations says has displaced more than 320,000 people and which is expected to roll on towards the rebel-held parts of Quneitra province close to the Golan frontier.

Amman brokered truce talks between Syrian rebels and Russia but they broke down this week.