A senior defense official in Jordan confirmed to Israel Hayom on Sunday that two divisions of the Syrian army, comprising tens of thousands of soldiers, which had been posted permanently along the Golan cease-fire line, have now almost entirely disintegrated. The breakdown of the Syrian army in that region means that the country's opposition has now completely overrun the Israeli-Syrian border area.
According to the defense official, the regime in Damascus no longer has any control over the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
"The regime no longer controls south-east Syria, and most of the periphery has been overrun by rebels and their supporters," the official said. "The Syrian Golan has turned into a no-man's land, ruled by armed opposition militias and extremist terrorists that have infiltrated the country."
The official added that "Iranian Revolutionary Guards and armed Hezbollah fighters who were helping the Syrian soldiers in the Golan area have also disappeared in recent days, abandoning positions and posts full of supplies and ammunition."
On Monday, Syrian activists said that a top rebel military leader had been wounded and possibly killed by a bomb stuck to his car.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that the blast on Monday targeted Col. Riad al-Asaad during a visit to the town of Mayadeen in eastern Syria. Col. Riad al-Asaad is a prominent army defector who became head of the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella group that tried to gather rebel fighters under a unified command
But al-Asaad became little more than a figurehead and his group has been superseded by the Office of the Chiefs of Staff, associated with the opposition Syrian National Coalition.
The Observatory reported conflicting reports on al-Asaad's fate, with some saying he had been killed and others saying he lost a leg
Meanwhile, Syrian forces fired chemical weapons from multiple rocket launchers at rebels surrounding an army base in the town of Adra on the outskirts of Damascus, killing two fighters and wounding 23, Syrian opposition fighters claimed on Monday.
"Doctors are describing the chemical weapon used as phosphorus that hits the nervous system and causes imbalance and loss of consciousness. The two fighters were very close to where the rockets exploded and they died swiftly. The rest are being treated with atropine [a medicine used to increase the heart rate]," said Mohammad al-Doumani, an activist in the nearby town of Douma, where the wounded were taken for treatment.
There was no independent confirmation of the attack, which follows the death of 26 people in a rocket attack near the city of Aleppo last week. The authorities and rebels accused each other of firing a missile carrying chemicals there.
The chaos in the Syrian Golan was underscored on Sunday by the resignation of the leader of the opposition movement and its most popular figure, Moaz al-Khatib, who cited lack of support as his reason for quitting. The situation further deteriorated with an exchange of fire between Syrian and Israeli forces across the border on Sunday.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz spoke about the exchange during an event at a military base in Judea and Samaria on Sunday, saying, "This incident serves as a reminder of how sensitive and volatile this front really is. This was intentional fire, meant to imperil our forces. We had to attack and destroy the area from where the fire came. We will continue to take action on this front, wisely and carefully. Where an offensive is in order, we will attack. The IDF is prepared for any scenario."
In the wake of the escalating tension along the border, the new Diplomatic-Security Cabinet, the government's top ministerial forum, convened on Sunday to discuss the situation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to convene the security cabinet again on Monday.
The new security cabinet comprises Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, Homefront Defense Minister Gilad Erdan and International Relations, Strategic Affairs and Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz. In the last government, the security cabinet comprised 15 ministers.
In Jerusalem, officials are pleased with the level of global coordination on the Syrian issue, hoping that chemical weapons will not be used or smuggled from the country. A government source said Sunday that "[U.S. President Barack] Obama's visit to Israel led to improved coordination with the U.S. on the Syria issue."