Syria’s Quneitra province, on Israel’s doorstep
Syria’s southwestern Quneitra province includes the Golan Heights, most of which is annexed and occupied by Israel.
Syrian government forces on Thursday raised the flag in the buffer zone separating Syrian-held territory from the Israeli-annexed Golan, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The part of the province to the east of the buffer zone fell almost totally under regime control after a brief military offensive followed by deals under which the rebels surrendered or were evacuated from the region.
Here is some background about the province.
– On Israel’s doorstep –
The rocky plateau known as the Golan Heights overlooks Israel’s Galilee region and Lake Tiberius to the south and west.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised internationally.
The region is strategically important for Syria because it also controls a key highway from the Jordanian border to the capital Damascus.
– Under rebel control –
After decades of calm, tensions began flaring up in the Golan with the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
In March 2013, rebels fighting Assad’s forces launched coordinated attacks in the area and began seizing parts of the province.
The following year, rebel fighters and jihadists from Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate expanded their control, seizing the crossing between the Syrian section of the Golan and the part annexed by Israel.
– Israel-Syria flashpoint –
In September 2014, the Israeli army shot down a Syrian military plane over the Golan in the most serious incident over the Heights since the conflict started.
The area has witnessed fierce fighting between rebels and the regime, with fire occasionally landing in occupied territory and prompting Israeli retaliation.
Israel in particular objects to the presence of regime-allied foreign fighters close to its borders: namely, Iranian forces or units from Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
On January 18, 2015, a raid blamed on Israel killed six members of Hezbollah and an Iranian general close to Quneitra.
On May 10, 2018, Israel carried out dozens of raids against Iranian targets, saying it was responding to Iranian rockets fired at the Israeli-held part of Golan.
On July 24, Israel said it had shot down a Syrian plane that had entered its airspace over Golan, a version denied by Damascus, which said the plane was carrying out operations against jihadists.
– Regime advances –
A “de-escalation” accord negotiated by Russia, the United States and Jordan saw southern Syria return to relative calm for the past year.
But this month it became a new front for advancing Syrian forces after they re-established their authority over most of neighbouring Daraa province.
The regime launched an assault on Quneitra on July 15 with heavy bombardment.
Under pressure, the rebels accepted on July 19 to allow regime forces to take over, and began evacuating the next day.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the regime now holds 90 percent of the Syrian side of the province.