NEW YORK - Israeli security forces have kept steady contacts with the Syrian rebels, who are attempting to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, over the past 18 months, mainly treating wounded fighters but possibly supplying them with arms, according to a US newspaper.

Citing reports from United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which patrols the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, The Christian Science Monitor said that over the past year Israel’s help to more than 1,000 wounded Syrians had also opened a channel of communication with Syrian rebels.

“Though some in Israel appear to support the Assad regime as the lesser evil, Israel is no doubt interested in gleaning intelligence from rebel groups in order to better assess and defend itself against jihadi activity in the occupied Golan Heights,” the Monitor said in a dispatch from Jerusalem.

In August this year, the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front) took over the Quneitra border crossing, raising concerns of infiltration and attacks on Israeli targets.

Israel seized the Golan Heights in 1967 after conquering it in a war with Syria and annexed it in 1981. The cease-fire line is today patrolled by UNDOF.

In the most recent report, from December 1, according to the paper, UNDOF stated that it observed soldiers from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) allowing two individuals to pass from the “Bravo” line - the Syrian side - to the “Alpha” line on the Israeli side. It added, “UNDOF sporadically observed armed members of the opposition interacting with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations position 85.”Position 85 is located about 15 miles south of Quneitra and away from any Israeli population centers. It appears to have been a key crossing point for wounded Syrians seeking treatment in Israel. According to the eight previous UNDOF reports, covering the past two years, Syrian rebels often were the ones to hand over the wounded and receive them after treatment.

For example, the June 10, 2014 report details 59 incidents at Position 85 during which UNDOF “observed armed members of the opposition transferring 89 wounded persons from the Bravo side across the ceasefire line to IDF and IDF on the Alpha side handing over 19 treated and 2 deceased individuals to the armed members of the opposition on the Bravo side.”

At least some of those being treated are wounded fighters. In the spring of 2013, for example, after the permanent representative of Syria wrote to the UN secretary-general and the president of the Security Council about the reported transfer of injured Syrians to Israeli hospitals, the liaison officer of Israel “informed UNDOF that IDF had provided emergency medical treatment to 20 armed members of the opposition.”

It appears that the coordination may have other purposes as well, the Monitor said. The June 2014 report notes “on one occasion, UNDOF observed IDF on the Alpha side handing over two boxes to armed members of the opposition on the Bravo side.”

When asked by the Monitor whether the Israeli military disputed UNDOF’s reports of direct contact between the IDF and Syrian rebels and shown the relevant excerpts, an IDF spokesman said the military didn’t have any comment on the UN’s observations.

AFP adds: Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Monday during a visit to Tehran that Iran is backing the latest Russian effort to end his country’s more than three-year conflict.

A delegation of Syrian dissidents tolerated by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime will travel to Moscow this week for meetings, days after government members discussed a new peace process there.

A meeting with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov will include talks on a political solution and the role of Syria-based opponents.

Muallem, after meeting his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, said at a joint news conference: “I heard Mr Zarif support this plan. There is no doubt Iran will help achieve a political solution.”

Reuters adds: Rich countries should agree to take at least 5 percent of all Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, aid agencies said as pressure mounts ahead of a major conference on the crisis.

At least 3.2 million people have fled Syria since the civil conflict erupted in 2011, putting neighbouring countries under colossal strain.

Syrian refugees across the Middle East, some in exile for a fourth winter, face freezing temperatures, hunger and increasing hostility from locals as governments struggle to cope.

Tuesday’s conference in Geneva comes amid concern that the biggest host countries, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, have started restricting access to people fleeing the war.

“European countries must share responsibility,” said Ana Fontal, spokeswoman for the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). “It’s difficult to continue saying you shouldn’t close borders if we don’t do more to bring refugees here.”

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is calling on countries to make pledges towards resettling 130,000 refugees affected by “the worst humanitarian crisis of our time”.

It is prioritising the most vulnerable, including those with medical needs, torture survivors and women and girls at risk.

“Offering resettlement can mean the difference between life and death,” said Fontal. “EU countries must seize the opportunity to express greater solidarity and significantly increase their role in providing protection.”

The 5 percent demand - which represents 160,000 refugees - is backed by many aid and refugee groups including Oxfam, Save the Children, Refugee Council and Amnesty International.

Last week Amnesty strongly criticised Gulf countries for their “shameful” failure to resettle a single Syrian refugee. The UNHCR says offers made since 2013 bring it nearly halfway towards its goal of 130,000 places. Germany alone has pledged to take 30,000 Syrians.

“We want countries to follow the example of Germany and come up with ambitious numbers,” said Fontal.

Campaigners have been particularly critical of Britain which had accepted just 90 Syrians for resettlement by September.

Refugee Council’s Anna Musgrave said the number was pitiful. “It’s barely enough to fill a double decker bus. It’s really quite shocking.”

Last month a coalition of charities called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to offer 10,000 places to Syrians.

Ahead of the Geneva conference, a handful of European countries have indicated plans to accept more Syrians in 2015.

Norway could take up to 1,500, France 500 and the Netherlands 250. Belgium said it would resettle 150 refugees from Syria and Iraq, with a focus on religious minorities.

Britain, which has no figure for 2015, said it expected to relocate several hundred vulnerable Syrians over three years.