Middle East

Israel to keep tight control on Syria border: PM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Ronen Zvulun, Pool)

JERUSALEM: Israel will maintain close tabs on its border with Syria and only let people to cross in "exceptional circumstances," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday after seven injured Syrians were let in.

"We will continue to watch over the border and prevent anyone from crossing it and entering Israel, except in a few isolated and exceptional circumstances -- each of which will be weighed on its own merit," Netanyahu told his outgoing cabinet.

Israeli troops in the occupied Golan Heights on Saturday allowed in seven people who were wounded in clashes on the Syrian side of the strategic plateau to cross the armistice line, taking them for treatment at a hospital in the northern town of Safed.

All seven were taken to Ziv hospital where they were operated on, a spokeswoman told AFP.

"One of them who arrived in critical condition is now in serious condition, but the others are less seriously wounded," Yael Shavit told AFP on Sunday.

She said it was not the first time the hospital had treated Syrian nationals but refused to go into details.

Neither the army nor the hospital would provide details on the nature of the injuries, or whether they were members of the Syrian military or the opposition forces.

On Saturday, a military source told public radio Israel had prepared designated areas along the frontier to receive Syrian refugees under the auspices of the United Nations.

Netanyahu said the tensions along Israel's frontier with Syria would be a key element of his talks with US President Barack Obama when he makes his first visit to Israel as president next month.

Meanwhile, Amos Gilad, a top official in the defence ministry told army radio that Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons, which Israel and much of the West fears could fall into the hands of militant groups, were still in the hands of the Damascus regime.

"For the moment, the chemical weapons held by Syria remain under the control of the regime," he said.

"The Syrian regime has not allowed the insurgents to seize these weapons but the regime is an an advanced stage of disintegration," he said.

"We must keep our eyes wide open because there are terror organisation which are strengthening Syria, like Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah."

In recent months, there have been several instances of gunfire or mortar shells landing on the Israeli side of the plateau, prompting troops in November to respond with artillery in the first such instance of Israeli fire towards the Syrian military since the 1973 war.

Israel seized the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981, in a move never recognised by the international community.

It is currently upgrading its security fence along its armistice line with the work expected to be finished by the end of the year.





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