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Israel turns away Syrians seeking help as air strikes kill civilians

Dozens of displaced people waving white flags approach the Golan frontier, only to be turned back by the Israeli military
Israel has refused to take in any Syrians displaced by the fighting in the south (AFP)

Israeli forces on the Golan Heights frontier turned away scores of Syrians seeking help or refuge from a Syrian government offensive on Tuesday, as more than a dozen civilians were killed in air strikes nearby.

A Syrian government offensive to take control of southern Daraa province has forced tens of thousands of civilians to seek shelter along the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, with Israel refusing to give them asylum.

"Go back before something bad happens. If you want us to be able to help you, go back," an army officer on the Israeli side of the frontier fence told the crowd in Arabic through a megaphone.

"Get a move on." 

The Syrians got within 200 metres of the security fence, before the military convinced them to turn back.

The crowd, which included women and children, walked back slowly towards their encampment. Some stopped midway and waved white cloths in the direction of the Israelis. 

Syrian refugees hold out white cloths to Israeli forces on the Golan Heights (AFP)
This latest episode of displacement comes as pro-Syrian government forces began pounding the southwestern province of Quneitra since Sunday in a bid to retake it from rebels, after winning back most of the neighbouring governorate of Daraa in less than a month.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said air strikes killed 14 civilians in the village of Ain al-Tina on Quneitra's border with Daraa on Tuesday morning.

"They were all displaced from other areas. They included five children and three women," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

It was not immediately clear whether the strikes were carried out by government forces or its Russian ally, the UK-based group said.

The Observatory determines who carried out strikes based on the type of aircraft and munitions used, locations and flight patterns.

The civilians had reportedly been taking shelter in a large building in Ain al-Tina.

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Activists shared images of the strikes' reported aftermath, showing motionless children with greyish skin wrapped in blood-stained blankets.

In the west of the adjacent province of Daraa, Russian air raids also killed one civilian near the village of al-Aliya, the Observatory said.

"Since Tuesday morning, heavy Russian air strikes and barrel bombs dropped by the regime have been targeting an area straddling Quneitra and Daraa," Abdel Rahman said. 

Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, a group led by Syria's former al-Qaeda affiliate, is present in that area, he said.

Assad's forces advanced in Daraa thanks to a deadly bombardment campaign waged since 19 June, along with Russia-brokered deals between opposition fighters and the government.

In Quneitra on Monday, rebels in at least five towns raised the national flag, seeking a similar agreement with the regime, Abdel Rahman told Reuters.

"Rebel factions in these towns have stopped fighting to avoid bombardment and destruction," he said.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced by Syria's war since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

Israel has threatened a harsh response to any attempt by Syrian forces to deploy in the disengagement zone, complicating the government offensive as it draws closer to the frontier.