As it returns to border, UN looks to reopen crossing between Israel and Syria
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As it returns to border, UN looks to reopen crossing between Israel and Syria

Russian military patrols also in area, possibly to reassure Israel, but are not part of UNDOF peacekeeping force because it excludes permanent UN Security Council members

Israeli soldiers walk past vehicles of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) near the town of Majdal Shams, on the Golan Heights, April 27, 2015. (AFP/Jalaa Marey)
Israeli soldiers walk past vehicles of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) near the town of Majdal Shams, on the Golan Heights, April 27, 2015. (AFP/Jalaa Marey)

The United Nations said Friday it is implementing “a gradual return” of the UN peacekeeping force to the frontier zone between Syria and the Israeli Golan Heights.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that a key goal in the return of the peacekeeping force, known as UNDOF, is reopening the Quneitra crossing between the two sides.

“The ultimate goal for UNDOF is the full return, conditions permitting,” he said.

The crossing is used by Druze farmers in Israel to transport apples to Syria for sale, as well as by Druze women who are to marry men on the other side of the border.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War. Syria still demands its return and regards the local Druze residents as its citizens living under occupation. As a result, delicate humanitarian arrangements are sometimes made between Israel and Syria through international organizations and on behalf of the local Druze population, which is divided by the ceasefire line between the two countries.

UN peacekeepers returned Thursday for the first time in years to the Syria-Israel frontier, conducting joint patrols with Russian military police in a reflection of Moscow’s deepening role in mediating between the decades-old foes in the volatile region.

Haq said “the August 2 patrol to the Quneitra crossing point is part of UNDOF’s ongoing efforts to return incrementally to the area of separation.”

Syrian soldiers arrive to Syria’s Quneitra border crossing between Syria and the Golan Heights, July 26, 2018. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Russian military police have been deploying in all areas recaptured from rebels by the Syrian government, and they have deployed on the edge of the Israeli Golan Heights in the past two days — a move that also appears aimed at reassuring Israel.

Israel considers Iran’s growing influence in Syria — it has advisers and allied militias fighting alongside Syrian troops— as an existential threat and had looked for guarantees from Moscow to push pro-Iran fighters away from its frontiers.

Haq stressed that the Russians are not part of UNDOF, which has been authorized to patrol the buffer zone between Syria and Israel since 1974, a year after the Yom Kippur War. He said the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement state that UNDOF’s members cannot include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the US, Russia, China, Britain and France.

For nearly four decades, UNDOF helped enforce a stable truce between the two countries, but the seven-year Syrian war moved into the zone not only with intense fighting but the abduction of peacekeepers by al-Qaida-linked anti-Syrian government militants.

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