Israel planning to house Syrian refugees if regime falls

Israel is preparing to offer refuge to Syrian citizens if the regime of President Bashar al-Assad falls.

Although Syria has long refused officially to recognise the Jewish state, Israel's military chief has revealed that should it be necessary, the country would help house refugees from the Syrian minority Alawite sect.

Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz reportedly told a Knesset committee that when the regime falls "it is expected to result in a blow to the Alawite sect. We are preparing to take in Alawite refugees on the Golan Heights."

President Assad, who is said to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of Syrians since a popular uprising began during the Arab Spring, is a member of the Alawite sect. If he is overthrown, the Alawite population would probably be in danger of reprisal attacks.

General Gantz said he did not believe the Syrian leader could continue "holding on to power" and said he would not fight to the last bullet down in the sewer as Libya's Colonel Gaddafi did.

He added that the regime's downfall was "expected to cause a crack in the radical axis," and said that Israel had to take into account that Syria has advanced weapons systems.

Last updated: 1:34pm, January 10 2012