Russia deploys police to help UN patrol Israel-Syria border

Russia deploys police to help UN patrol Israel-Syria border

General says officers setting up checkpoints, clearing landmines to facilitate return of international force to Golan

Members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) enter Syria from the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria on August 30, 2014. (Flash90)
Members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) enter Syria from the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria on August 30, 2014. (Flash90)

The Russian military said its forces in Syria would help UN peacekeepers fully restore their patrols along the frontier between Syria and the Israeli Golan Heights.

Lt. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko told reporters Tuesday that Russian military police have set up four checkpoints in the area and plan to bring their number to eight.

He said the Russian military would secure the area and help clear mines left by jihadists to allow the peacekeepers to resume their operations.

The UN peacekeeping force known as UNDOF first deployed along the frontier in 1974 to separate Syrian and Israeli forces after Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day War, but was halted on the Syrian side of the border in 2014 amid the violence in the country’s civil war.

Last month, Syrian government forces reached the Israeli border area after capturing territory from rebels and Islamic State fighters. It was the first time regime forces had taken up positions along the frontier since the uprising against President Bashar Assad swept through the country in 2011, becoming a seven-year civil war.

In response, the UN announced it was implementing a “gradual return” of its peacekeepers to the border area for the for the first time since 2014, conducting joint patrols with Russian military police.

Syrian troops raise the Syrian flag in the border town of Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights on July 27, 2018. (AFP Photo/Youssef Karwashan)

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters last week the key goal of UNDOF’s mission was to eventually reopen the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria.

Russia’s Defense Ministry says its military police have been deployed in all areas recaptured from rebels by the Syrian government, including the Golan — a move that 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 has looked for guarantees from Moscow to push pro-Iran fighters away from its frontiers.

Israel has sought to avoid direct involvement in the Syrian conflict but acknowledges carrying out dozens of airstrikes there to stop deliveries of advanced weaponry to its Lebanese enemy Hezbollah.

It has also pledged to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, and a series of recent strikes that have killed Iranians in Syria have been attributed to Israel.

With Syrian forces now in close proximity, there have already been clashes between the two armies and Israel has insisted that the Syrian military respect the 1974 ceasefire agreement reached between Jerusalem and Damascus after the previous year’s Yom Kippur War. The agreement limits the forces each side can keep in the border region.

Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian Military General Staff speaks to the media as a screen shows the map of Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon in Moscow, Russia, August 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

On July 24, a Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet entered Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights, traveling approximately two kilometers (one mile) before it was downed when the IDF fired two Patriot interceptor missiles.

On July 13, a Patriot missile shot down a Syrian army drone that was flying over the demilitarized zone separating Israel from Syria. Two days earlier, a Syrian military unmanned aerial vehicle penetrated some 10 kilometers (six miles) into Israeli territory before it too was shot down by a Patriot missile. The IDF said it had allowed the drone to fly so deeply into Israeli territory because it was not immediately clear if it belonged to the Russian military.

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