Israel, Syria agree to reopen border crossing — US

Nikki Haley says Quneitra junction to open Monday as part of UN peacekeeping efforts, calls for ceasefire accord between countries to be maintained

UN peacekeepers and Israeli soldiers are seen on the Israeli side of the Quneitra Crossing between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights on September 27, 2018. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
UN peacekeepers and Israeli soldiers are seen on the Israeli side of the Quneitra Crossing between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights on September 27, 2018. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The main border crossing between Israel and Syria will be reopened Monday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said, over four years after it was shuttered due to the Syrian civil war.

In a statement Friday welcoming the move, Haley said the decision by Israel, Syria and the United Nations to reopen the Quneitra Crossing was part of the return of UN peacekeepers to the area. She said it would allow them to “step up their efforts to prevent hostilities in the Golan Heights region.”

The UN Disengagement Observer Force, or UNDOF, was established as part of the 1974 ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria that ended the 1973 Yom Kippur War and created a demilitarized zone along the border.

“We look to both Israel and Syria to provide UN peacekeepers the access they need as well as assurances of their safety. We also call on Syria to take the necessary steps so UNDOF can safely and effectively deploy and patrol without interference,” Haley said in a statement.

She called on both countries to adhere to the ceasefire and “keep any military forces other than UN peacekeepers out of the area.”

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks at a Security Council meeting on the the situation in Syria at UN headquarters in New York City on March 12, 2018. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

There was no immediate confirmation of the crossing’s reopening from Israel, Syria or Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in the civil war.

The US announcement of Quneitra’s reopening comes just weeks after Israel and Russia both said the necessary steps had been taken to reopen the border crossing.

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.

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 last month.

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)

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.

Liberman stressed that Israel was demanding that Syria abide by “every single section” of the ceasefire agreement between them.

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.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed