Assad’s forces raise Syrian flag on Israel’s doorstep

State-run Syrian media on Thursday declared that dictator Bashar al-Assad’s troops raised the nation’s flag close to Israel’s border.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

On Thursday, Syrian state media reported that government forces had entered the town of Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, reaching Israel’s doorstep.

According to the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media (SCCM), Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s troops raised the nation’s flag on Thursday afternoon.

SCMM posted photographs from inside the town, where homes had been left badly damaged since Syria waged war on Israel decades ago.

Syrian troops have been on the offensive against insurgents in the country’s southwest for weeks and have captured much of the area all the way to the Jordanian border and to the frontier with Israel.

Assad’s advances arrive just days after Israel orchestrated the rescue of hundreds of members of the Syrian Civil Defense organization, known as the “White Helmets,” and their families. Israel’s intervention made it possible for them to leave the area, where their lives weighed in the balance as hostile regime troops continued to advance.

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Some Syrian refugees in Jordan say they oppose Russian efforts to bring them back home from regional host countries.

Several Syrians interviewed Thursday say they don’t trust the Syrian government or Russia, which backs President Bashar Assad.

Russia, which helped Assad restore significant swaths of territory from rebels in recent years, is discussing the repatriation of refugees from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Russian diplomats are meeting Lebanese and Jordanian officials Thursday to discuss the return. Ayman Safadi, foreign minister of Jordan, said Wednesday that Amman will not force any refugee to go home, insisting the return would be “voluntarily.”

A spokesman for the U.N.’s refugee agency said his organization, while welcoming an end to the Syrian crisis, has up to 21 conditions before encouraging refugees to return.

Jordan hosts 667,000 registered Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, a Syrian government official says the death toll from coordinated attacks the previous day by the Islamic State group on a usually peaceful southern city and surrounding countryside has climbed to 216.

It’s the worst violence to hit the area since the country’s conflict began. Mass funerals were underway for the victims on Thursday.

Hassan Omar, a local health official in Sweida province, said on Thursday that at least 150 people were wounded in the attacks; some of them were in critical condition.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 246, including 135 civilians and 111 members of local militias who fought IS militants who swarmed their villages.

The attack on the villages coincided with suicide attacks in the provincial capital earlier in the morning.