Syrian army troops and their allies have made significant territorial gains in the last militant-held enclave near a strategic border area with Israel and Lebanon.
Militant sources said the Syrian forces, backed by heavy airstrikes and artillery shelling, advanced east and south of the militant-held stronghold of Beit Jin since a major operation began over two months ago to capture the area.
The Syrian military said it had surrounded the village of Mughr al-Meer at the foothills of Mount Hermon as forces moved towards Beit Jin amid fierce clashes.
The enclave is the last militant stronghold left southwest of Damascus known as the Western Ghouta that had been captured by government forces last year.
The foreign-backed Takfiri militants still have a presence in central and southern Quneitra, in Syria’s Golan Heights.
The advance will apparently thwart Israeli attempts to invade Syria after the Israeli military threatened back in November to launch an incursion into Syria “to protect” the people of a village populated by the Arab country’s Druze minority, who are themselves supportive of the Syrian government.
The Hader village is situated in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, and its population is aligned with the Syrian government, casting doubts about Israel’s real motives in possibly launching an incursion into the Syrian territory.
People in the occupied parts of Syria’s Golan Heights themselves held a protest to condemn what they called Israel’s support for anti-Damascus terrorists. The demonstrators accused Israel of backing al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, previously known as al-Nusra Front, during its fatal assault on Hader in the countryside of Quneitra on November 3.
Israel is widely believed to be harboring and supporting anti-Syrian government militants who have been wreaking havoc along Syria’s southwestern border regions.
The regime regularly hits positions held by the Syrian army in the Golan Heights, sometimes describing the attacks as “retaliatory.” Syria says the raids aim to help Takfiri militants fighting against government forces.
On several occasions, the Syrian army has confiscated Israeli-made arms and military equipment from terrorists fighting the government forces. Israel has also been providing medical treatment to the extremist militants wounded in Syria.
Back in June, The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel had been providing militants in Syria’s Golan Heights with a steady flow of funds and medical supplies.
Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and has continued to occupy two-thirds of the strategically-important territory ever since, in a move that has never been recognized by the international community.
The regime has built tens of illegal settlements in the area since its occupation and has used the region to carry out a number of military operations against the Syrian government.
The southwest of Syria is part of a de-escalation zone in southern Syria agreed last July between Russia and the US, the first such understanding between the two powers.