The Quneitra border crossing in the Golan Heights was reopened on Monday, four years after it was closed after UN observers fled from the fighting in the Syrian civil war.
Syria’s national flag was hoisted on its side of the crossing as it opened in the presence of UN peacekeeping to the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and local Druze leaders.
The IDF announced on Sunday that the strategic crossing between Israel and Syria would be opened exclusively to UNDOF troops for the time being.
“In recent months Israel and the IDF have worked in cooperation with the United Nations and the United States to reopen the crossing out of a commitment to the mission of the UN Disengagement Observer Force,” the IDF said.
Syrian government troops recaptured southern Syria including the Quneitra province in July, seven years after losing the area to rebel groups at the beginning of the country’s civil war. UN peacekeepers also returned to the area for the first time in early August, as well as Russian military police who have been deployed along the Golan Heights border.
Last Friday, the Trump administration applauded the announcement that the crossing would be reopened, with US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley saying it would allow peacekeepers to “step up their efforts to prevent hostilities in the Golan Heights region.”
“We also call on Syria to take the necessary steps so UNDOF can safely and effectively deploy and patrol without interference,” she continued.
“While this is an important step, all sides must abide by the 1974 Agreement and keep any military forces other than UN peacekeepers out of the area.”
Israel captured the Golan Heights, some 1,200 sq. km. from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War, and unilaterally annexed the plateau in 1981.
UN troops, which patrolled the buffer zone with Syria since 1974, left the area after peacekeepers were abducted by Syrian rebels in 2014.
The crossing, which was mostly used by the Druze population in the Golan Heights, was closed in 2014 by the IDF after rebels groups and al-Qaeda militants took over the town of old Quneitra.
The crossing was once used by the Golan Height’s 22,000 Druze to export apples to Syria.
Golan Druze also would cross into Syria to study or for marriage purposes.
“The opening of the crossing symbolizes the return of the enforcement of the 1974 disengagement agreement [between Israel and Syria],” the IDF said.
But while the reopening of the crossing would restore the situation along the border to what it was prior to Syria’s civil, which broke out in 2011, according to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, it will not have any impact on Israel’s relationship with Syria or its president Bashar Assad.
“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,” he said.