UN peacekeepers return to Golan after talks with Russia, Israel, Syria

AFP , Friday 3 Aug 2018

File Photo: Peacekeeping troops from the unarmed United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) look over the border line between Israel and Syria at a refugee tents erected at its Syrian side and seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel, July 17, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)

UN peacekeepers have carried out a first patrol since 2014 to a key crossing point between the Syrian and Israeli-controlled Golan Heights after liaising with Russia, Israel and Syria, a UN spokesman said Friday.

Thursday's patrol at the Quneitra crossing point was the first since the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) withdrew in 2014 after Al-Qaeda-linked rebels overran the area.

Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, have in past weeks recaptured territory near the Golan Heights, driving out rebel groups from a "de-escalation zone" agreed by Jordan, Russia and the United States.

The "patrol to the Quneitra crossing point is part of UNDOF's ongoing efforts to return incrementally to the area of separation," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.

He said the mission liaised with both the Syrian Arab Armed Forces and Israel's army ahead of the patrol.

Syrian troops and Russian military police also carried out "simultaneous" patrols of the area, said Haq.

After the Russian army said Thursday it planned to deploy eight military observation posts in the Golan, the UN spokesman said any Russian military presence would be "separate and distinct from that of UNDOF."

The United Nations is aiming for the full return of UNDOF to the Syrian side. Currently, more than half of UNDOF's 978 troops are deployed on the so-called Bravo (Syrian) side.

UNDOF has carried out more than 30 patrols in the northern and central parts of the area of separation since it resumed its activities on the Syrian side in February.

Established in 1974, UNDOF monitors a ceasefire line that has separated Israelis from Syrians in the Golan Heights.

Israel seized much of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move the international community has not recognized.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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