Jordan, Israel say killed ISIS militants near Syria border
LONDON – The Jordanian army on Thursday said it had killed a number of Islamic State (ISIS) militants who tried to approach its northern border with Syria.
The incident on Tuesday came as clashes raged between Syrian regime forces and “a gang of ISIS terrorists” in the Yarmuk Basin region of southwestern Syria, an army statement said.
ISIS militants “tried to approach our border” but Jordanian troops prevented them by pounding them “with all types of weapons” and “killing a number of them”, it added, without specifying how many.
The operation to secure the area continued into Wednesday, the statement said.
The Jordanian army said that on the Syrian side of the border, regime forces cornered the militants in a pocket of southern Syria around the Yarmuk Basin and neighbouring villages.
On Tuesday, Syrian media and a war monitor reported heavy clashes between regime forces and ISIS militants surrounded in a wedge of territory in southern Daraa province.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nearly 100 militants from the ISIS-allied Army of Khaled Ben al-Walid were cornered in their last redoubt.
Syrian state television reported that army units were locked in fierce fighting in “the last pockets of the ISIS terrorist group”.
Jordan, alongside other Western and Arab backers, had supplied former Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels with weapons and logistical support to defeat the militants until the rebels themselves were defeated by the Syrian army last month and lost ground.
A Jordanian army source said the militants who fled from the border were then chased by the Syrian army conducting operations in the area to drive them out of their last hideouts.
The militants had sought to take cover among hundreds of civilians camped near the Jordanian border to escape the bombing of their villages during the offensive against the militants, an intelligence source said.
The heavy fighting had displaced most of the former 40,000 inhabitants and caused many civilian casualties, this source said.
After the capture of the area, there are dozens of militants from an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 fighters who once controlled the area who are believed to be now hiding in a rugged terrain that separates the borders of the two countries near the Yarmouk Basin, the source said.
The Jordanian announcement came as Israel’s army said it had killed seven militants believed to be linked to ISIS in an air strike late Wednesday.
The militants were believed to be trying to infiltrate Israel from the Syrian Golan Heights, the Israeli army said.
The Yarmuk Basin area is near both the Jordanian border and the Israeli-held part of the Golan plateau.
The Israeli military carried out the missile strike late Wednesday after the militants crossed a ceasefire line and came within a few hundred metres of the fence in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, spokesman Jonathan Conricus told journalists.
An Israeli aircraft “struck those seven suspects, and today in searches that have been completed on the ground by Israeli troops we found seven bodies in that location, we found five AK-47 assault rifles, we found explosive vests as well as what appears to be grenades,” Conricus said.
Israeli forces monitored the militants’ movements before carrying out the strike, he said.
“Had they been able to continue, they would have come to the Israeli security fence,” Conricus said.
He said Israeli forces believed they were on a “terrorist mission” and “trying to infiltrate into Israel.”
“It did not seem as if they were fleeing, seeking refuge,” Conricus said. “It seems as if they were moving in a combat formation, with combat equipment.”
He declined to say specifically where they were located, but said it was in the southern Golan, near the Jordanian border.
Initial findings show they were linked to ISIS but it remains unconfirmed, said Conricus.
Conricus said there had been no coordination with Syria or Russia before the strike, adding that Israel was well within the bounds of a 1974 ceasefire agreement for the area in carrying it out.
Israel has sought to remain out of direct involvement in Syria’s civil war, but it admits carrying out dozens of air strikes there to stop what it says are deliveries of advanced weaponry to its Lebanese enemy Hezbollah.
It has also pledged to prevent its arch foe Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria and a series of recent strikes that have killed Iranians in Syria have been attributed to Israel.
Confrontations with ISIS-linked fighters have been rare.
The only other similar incident since the start of Syria’s seven-year civil war occurred in November 2016.
(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)