Syria is ready to re-open the Quneitra border crossing with Israel, deputy commander of the Russian Forces in Syria Lt.-Gen. Sergei Kuralenko announced Tuesday.“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.“Of course, the work at the checkpoint was launched by the Russian servicemen, by the Russians to [clean the area of mines]. At the final stage, the territory’s clearance was checked by the mine clearance specialists of the UN mission,” he added.
Kuralenko’s statement comes less than a week after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that Israel was ready to open its side of the crossing from both a security and managerial standpoint, adding that “the ball is in the Syrian side of the court.”Once the crossing is opened on the Syrian side, Druze farmers in Israel will again be able to sell their produce in Syria, and Druze women will once again be able to cross into Syria to marry. Members of the community will be able to cross for other social and business purposes.The reopening of the crossing, which would restore the situation along the border to what it was prior to Syria’s civil war, would not have any impact on Israel’s relationship with Syria or with Syrian 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.Israel, he stressed, demands that Syria abides by “every single section” of the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement.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.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 Kuralenko, who was quoted by TASS in late September, Russian military police began patrolling from the central to the southern part of the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel prior to the return of UN peacekeepers.“We’re monitoring the observance of the agreement in accordance with the UN [Security Council] resolution to restrict weapons near the Bravo Line on Syria’s side. Thus, we’re supporting the UN body that is keeping a close watch on the reconciliation,” he told journalists.“We are confident that the UN patrols will follow in the footsteps of the Russian military police, after performing certain procedures. There have been no UN forces in this neck of the woods for more than six years, and today people see only Russian and Syrian flags here,” Kuralenko said.
Defense Minister Liberman"s visit to Quneitra crossing, September 27, 2018 (Shachar Levi/Ministry of Defense)