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Israel Reinforces Troops, Steps Up Humanitarian Aid to Syria

FILE - A picture taken from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Aug. 30, 2014 shows the Israeli border with Syria near the Quneitra crossing, the only border crossing between Israel and Syria.

The Israeli military said Sunday it would be reinforcing troops along the frontier with Syria and stepping up its humanitarian efforts in the area amid a fierce Syrian government offensive that has displaced thousands of people.

The military said it would be sending armor and artillery to the area. The United Nations has warned of a catastrophe in southern Syria, where government forces are on the offensive against insurgents in fighting that has forced thousands of people to flee toward the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and the Jordanian border.

The Israeli military said it took in six Syrians, including four young children, over the weekend for emergency medical treatment after their families were killed. It has supplied 300 tents and about 60 tons of food, clothing, humanitarian aid and medicine to thousands of internally displaced Syrians who fled heavy bombardment by Syrian government forces.

Israel has been sending aid into Syria for several years and has provided medical treatment to thousands of Syrians that reached the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

"The picture has changed over the past week and half," said the commander of "Operation Good Neighbor," the Israeli program to aid Syrians. "These are people who fled their homes with nothing... we realized we had to do something different."

The officer could not be identified according to military protocol. Since the operation started two years ago, the military says it has delivered more than 1,500 tons of food, 250 tons of clothing and nearly a million liters of fuel.

The military says it will continue to aid those in need but won't allow a massive influx of refugees into the country. At his weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out the guidelines.

"We will continue to defend our borders. We will extend humanitarian assistance to the extent of our abilities. We will not allow entry into our territory," he said.

Israel has tried its best to stay on the sidelines of the bloody seven-year civil war raging next door, wary of being drawn into the fighting where all sides wish it ill. It has carried out occasional airstrikes on suspected weapons shipments to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Syrian government forces, and has responded to occasional spillover fire.

It has warned Iran, which is also allied with the Syrian government, against building up a military presence on its doorstep, and in recent months has attacked Iranian targets directly.