Israel to turn back fleeing Syrian refugees
Published Thursday, July 19, 2012
Israel will force Syrian refugees fleeing to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights back into the chaos of the war-torn country, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday as fighting continued in various Syrian cities.
"They (refugees) have not chosen to come close to us, but in the event of the regime's downfall, which could happen...(Israeli military forces) here are alert and ready, and if we have to stop waves of refugees, we will stop them," Barak said.
Israel is a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Rights Convention but has often been criticized for failing to protect asylum seekers.
Recently the Jewish state has carried out a series of forced deportations of African migrants, despite many claiming they would face persecution or death on arrival.
The decision to force Syrian refugees back across the border, putting many in serious danger of death, could be a breach of the convention.
An Israeli defense source later claimed that Barak was speaking only about preventing a flood of refugees, apparently not closing the door completely to some Syrians seeking safety.
Barak was speaking to reporters at an Israeli army base that supports the occupation of the Golan Heights, territory captured from Syria in 1967.
An Israeli barrier separates the Golan from the rest of Syria along a frontier that has has been quiet for decades.
Some two kilometers away, smoke from mortar shells could be seen billowing over the Syrian village of Jubata, and gunfire was heard as Syrian fighters kept up pressure in a 16-month-old revolt against their government.
A senior Israeli officer told journalists at the Syrian border in March that the military had made preparations with international agencies to accept refugees from Syria temporarily and later transfer them to a third country.
But the officer said at the time that a scenario of Syrians crossing over to Israeli territory was unlikely.
Israel 'annexed' the Golan in 1981, a move illegal in international law.
The UN refugee agency last month doubled its forecast for the number of refugees who will flee Syria this year to 185,000.
Turkey, which stretches along Syria's northern border, has given shelter to more than 50,000 Syrians since March 2011, but thousands have since returned to their homes.