Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman at the Quneitra border crossing, September 27, 2018.
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Israel is ready to reopen the Quneitra Crossing with Syria, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Thursday. The crossing has been closed since rebel groups opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad seized control of the area four years ago.
“We are ready to open the crossing as it was before. From a security and managerial point of view, everything is ready,” he said, adding, “The ball is in the Syrian side of the court.”
According to Liberman, Syrian police and customs agents are present on the Syrian side of the crossing, along with Russian military police and UN peacekeeping troops who are separately patrolling the area.
“The fact that we have come here, to Alpha Gate, and as far as we are concerned UNDOF forces have begun to operate and patrol with the Israeli military’s assistance, says that we are ready for the crossing to reopen,” Liberman told reporters during a visit to the Israeli-held side of the crossing, referring to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force.
Israel captured the Golan Heights, some 1,200 square kilometers, from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and unilaterally annexed the area in 1981. UN troops patrolled the buffer zone with Syria since 1974, but left the area after peacekeepers were abducted by Syrian rebels in 2014.
Seven years after losing the area to rebel groups, Syrian troops have once again been deployed to the border with Israel.
In order to prevent any clashes between the two enemy countries, Russian military police have been deployed along the Golan Heights border, along with UN peacekeepers who returned to the area for the first time in early August.
According to UN Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq, a key goal in the full return of the UNDOF peacekeeping force is the reopening of the crossing.
Liberman stressed on Thursday that Israel was in daily contact with UNDOF troops along the buffer line, and while Israel has no interest in meddling in Syria’s civil war, it will work to ensure the security of Israeli citizens.
Israel, he stressed, demands that Syria abides by “every single section” of the 1974 Separation Of Forces Agreement.
“We are willing to bring life back to normal. Between the Alpha Gate and the Bravo Gate is the normality of this abnormal region,” he said.
Once the crossing is opened on the Syrian side, Druze farmers in Israel will again be able to sell their produce in Syria and other members of the community will be able to cross for other social purposes.
“As far as I’m concerned, [Assad] is a war criminal and all those international bodies that are so concerned about human rights, I do not see them acting on the Syrian side and not asking for clarifications from Assad,” Liberman said.
Meanwhile, Liberman refused to comment on any developments regarding the diplomatic crisis with Russia following the downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syria during an Israeli operation against Iranian targets last Monday.
“First of all, we value our relations with Russia, and the security coordination between the Russian Army and the IDF is very important,” he said, expressing Israel’s condolences for the deaths of the 15 Russian servicemen.
At the same, Liberman said, “we have no interest in having a conversation with Russia through the media. We have ways to communicate.”
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