Russia says Syrian side of Quneitra Crossing also ready to reopen
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Russia says Syrian side of Quneitra Crossing also ready to reopen

Last week, Israel announced it completed preparations to open its sole crossing with Syria, marking a return to pre-civil war conditions

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

UN soldiers watch as an International Committee of the Red Cross truck loaded with apples enters Syria through the Quneitra crossing from Israel in February 2011. (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
UN soldiers watch as an International Committee of the Red Cross truck loaded with apples enters Syria through the Quneitra crossing from Israel in February 2011. (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

Syria’s sole crossing with Israel can now be reopened, four years after it was closed due to the civil war in the country, a Russian general said Tuesday.

The announcement came less than a week after Israel said its side of the Quneitra Crossing, located on the Golan Heights, was also ready to reopen.

“The border crossing is ready for opening and for launching operations. This comes due to a great effort carried out by the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic with the assistance of the Russian Aerospace Forces,” said Lt. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko, deputy commander of Russian forces in Syria, according to the Russian Tass news agency.

The reopening of the Quneitra Crossing would restore conditions along the border to their status prior to the Syrian civil war, which broke out in 2011.

Israeli soldiers guard the Quneitra Crossing on the Syrian border with the Golan Heights on September 27, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The Russian general said the reopening was the work of both the Syrian and Russian militaries.

“A large group of officers worked together with representatives of the Syrian Armed Forces on implementing steps for post-conflict settlement,” Kuralenko said.

The crossing was shuttered in August 2014 following a number of attacks by Syrian rebels, which drove out the United Nations peacekeeping force that controlled the crossing, known as the UN Disengagement Observer Force, or UNDOF.

The peacekeeping force has slowly returned to the border between Israel and Syria in recent months — a move welcomed by Jerusalem.

“UNDOF troops have started working and patrolling, with IDF assistance. This shows that we are ready to open the crossing as it was before. The ball is now in Syria’s court,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said at the site on Thursday.

As Israel and Syria are technically at war, the Quneitra Crossing never saw regular, wide use. However, the local Druze populations in Israel and Syria were permitted, on some occasions, to travel through it to visit family on the other side — inspiring the 2004 movie “The Syrian Bride.” The crossing had also been used to transport apples from Druze orchards in Israel to Syria.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to reporters at the Quneitra Crossing on the Syrian border with the Golan Heights on September 27, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Liberman stressed that Israel was demanding that Syria abide by “every single section” of the ceasefire agreement that ended the 1973 Yom Kippur War between the two countries and created a demilitarized zone along the border.

The defense minister said the decision to reopen the crossing does not change Israel’s relationship with the Syrian regime or its despotic leader, Bashar Assad, whom the defense minister called a “war criminal.”

Initially, the crossing will mostly serve the UNDOF soldiers, allowing them to pass through for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening.

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