UN peacekeepers returned on Thursday to patrol the Israel-Syria border for the first time in years, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced — the latest development in efforts to negotiate a solution to the crisis along the volatile border.
Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian General Staff told reporters at a press conference in Moscow that the UN peacekeepers, aided by Russian forces, conducted their first patrolling mission in the area earlier in the day.
The development also marked the first time that forces from Russia, a major ally of the Damascus government, were involved in the patrols.
The peacekeeping mission was halted on the Syrian side of the border back in 2014 amid the violence in the country’s civil war.
Rudskoy also said military police would be deployed in the border area and set up eight observation posts to prevent “provocations,” Reuters reported, citing the Russian Interfax news agency.
“With the aim of preventing possible provocations against UN posts along the ‘Bravo’ line, the deployment is planned of eight observation posts of Russia’s armed forces’ military police,” he was quoted as saying.
“As the situation stabilizes, these posts will be handed over to Syrian government forces,” he added.
The UN peacekeeping forces, 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.
After Syria’s civil war erupted, clashes broke out between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and rebels inside the disengagement zone. In 2014, al-Qaeda terrorists in the area kidnapped 45 UN peacekeepers before releasing them after two weeks. The UN withdrew from many of its positions shortly after that incident.
The IDF spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, said in a telephone briefing with reporters that he could not immediately comment on the deployment on the Syrian side of the border.
Also Thursday, Conricus said the military targeted and killed seven armed terror operatives who had crossed into Israeli territory in the southern Golan Heights.
Israel tracked the armed infiltrators who approached the border on Wednesday night and a military aircraft struck as they attempted to cross a security fence on the Israeli side of the border.
A subsequent search of the area yielded several assault rifles and explosives, Conricus added. He said a preliminary assessment was that the infiltrators were Islamic State terrorists.
IDF troops were on “high alert and readiness” following the strike. The army’s announcement came shortly after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman toured a Patriot missile defense battery in northern Israel during a military preparedness drill.