Syrian government forces captured Saturday two rebel-held areas on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights after days of intense fighting near a decades-old cease-fire line between Syria and Israel, state TV said.
The violence came as the UN Security Council unanimously demanded immediate access everywhere in Syria to deliver humanitarian aid to millions of people in desperate need.
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Russia and China, strong supporters of the Syrian government, joined the rest of the council Saturday in sending a strong message to President Bashar Assad's government that civilians caught in the three-year conflict must be helped.
The resolution doesn't threaten sanctions but it does express the council's intention to take "further steps" if the resolution isn't implemented. The government and rebels hold several areas in the country under siege, leaving tens of thousands of people suffering from lack of food and medicine.
The Syrian TV report, citing a military official, said troops and pro-government gunmen known as National Defense Forces captured the areas of Rasm al-Hour and Rasm al-Sad, south of the town of Quneitra. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory For Human Rights confirmed troops were on the offensive, adding that the air force was taking part in the attack.
The Syrian army has been reinforcing its positions in Quneitra as part of efforts to drive rebels from the area, which is near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, since the opposition named a new military chief on Monday.
Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir hails from southern Syria and was an army commander in Quneitra until 2012, when he defected to the opposition.
In December, the UN Security Council strongly condemned all military activity on the Golan Heights by the Syrian army and opposition fighters, warning that it could "jeopardize the cease-fire" between Syria and Israel.
The council then approved a resolution extending the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force until the end of June. The force, known as UNDOF, was established after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Israel occupied the Golan Heights during the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in 1981.
The northern Syrian side of the Golan Heights has been characterized as a focal point between rebels, including army defectors, and Assad's forces. The area is considered particularly sensitive since many wounded Syrians are taken through the area to receive humanitarian aid by the IDF in Israel.
In December 2013, a blast shook an IDF force patrolling the border fence between Israel and Syria in the Mount Hermon region in the Golan Heights.The explosion was a result of explosive devices deliberately planted on the ground, an IDF examination into the event revealed. No injuries were reported in the event; however an IDF vehicle was damaged.
The incident is an escalation in terms of security dangers from the Syrian side – during the ongoing Syrian civil war, artillery, mortar shells and bullets were fired towards the Israeli side, yet this is the first indication of an intentional act against an IDF force.
Several weeks later in December, IDF forces located fragments of a mortar shell that was fired from Syria in the vicinity of Majdal Shams Monday morning. No injuries or damage were reported. The force was called to the scene of the landing following a citizen's report. Single shrapnel hit the area of a gas station nearby without causing damage.
Hours later, shots were fired towards an IDF patrol force in the vicinity of Quneitra, close to the Syrian border. No injuries or damage were reported in this event either. The force responded with fire towards the source.