US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a news conference at UN headquarters in Manhattan, New York, 2018.
(photo credit: JEENAH MOON/REUTERS)
The Trump administration applauded the announcement on Friday that a strategic crossing between Israel and Syria would re-open in the coming days.
UN peacekeepers in the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), tasked with policing a cease-fire in the Golan Heights between the two countries since hostilities ended in 1974, consider the Quneitra crossing point essential to their work.
The Syrian side of the crossing was twice occupied by rebel groups throughout the civil war there, in 2013 and 2014, leading to its closure.
“The United States welcomes the re-opening of this crossing, which will allow UN peacekeepers to step up their efforts to prevent hostilities in the Golan Heights region,” Nikki Haley, the outgoing US ambassador to the UN, said in a statement. “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,” 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.”
Two weeks ago, Lt.-Gen. Sergei Kuralenko stated that Syria was ready to re-open the border crossing with Israel, less than a week after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that Israel was ready to open the Israeli-side
of the crossing from both a security and managerial standpoint.
“The border crossing is ready for opening and to start operating. This comes due to a great effort carried out by the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic with the assistance of the Russian Aerospace Forces,” Kuralenko was quoted by Russia’s TASS News Agency as saying in early October.
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“Of course, the work at the checkpoint was launched by the Russian servicemen, by the Russian military police. First of all, we came to the site, checked it, then proceeded with extensive work to demine the area. At the final stage, the territory’s clearance was checked by the mine clearance specialists of the UN mission,” he added.
The reopening of the crossing, which will restore the situation along the border to what it was prior to Syria’s civil war, will allow Druze farmers in the Golan Heights to once again sell their produce in Syria and allow Druze women to cross into Syria for marriage purposes.
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 later, 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.
But according to Liberman, the opening of the crossing will not change Israel’s relationship with Syria or 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,” Liberman said, stressing that Syria must abide by “every single section” of the 1974 Separation Of Forces Agreement.
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