Syria, Israel agree to reopen key crossing in disputed Golan Heights

In late September, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman signaled his country’s readiness to resume normal activity at the Quneitra border crossing point, adding that “now the ball is in the Syrian court.”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that Israel and Syria had agreed to open the Quneitra checkpoint in the Golan Heights on Monday to help UN peacekeepers “prevent hostilities” in the area.

“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 [the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force] can safely and effectively deploy and patrol without interference,” Haley pointed out.

Her statement came a few weeks after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the Jewish state is ready to re-open the Quneitra checkpoint, the only official border crossing point with Syria.

“We see Syrian police and customs officers on the opposite side of the border, work is underway, patrols of the Russian military police are passing. […] We are ready to bring life back to normal,” Lieberman said after visiting the Israeli section of the crossing in late September.

Lt. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko, the deputy commander of the Russian forces in Syria, for his part, said that the upcoming reopening of the Quneitra checkpoint was “preceded by significant work carried out by the armed forces of the Syrian Arab Republic with the assistance of the Russian Aerospace Forces.”

 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,” Kuralenko said.

The conditions for the resumption of the checkpoint’s work were created after Syrian government forces regained control over Syria’s southern areas several months ago and the UN peacekeepers returned to the line of separation with Israel.

In May 1974, Israel and Syria signed a disengagement agreement after a military conflict fought mainly in Sinai and the Golan Heights. Under the agreement, part of Quneitra province was returned to Syrian government control, although the authority of Damascus in the region was disrupted by the civil unrest which began in Syria in 2011.

In 1967, Israel took control of the Golan Heights after the Six-Day War, and in 1981, the Jewish state passed a law declaring its right to the area, a document that has never been recognized internationally.

Although it never recognized recognize Israeli sovereignty over the region, the UN brokered an armistice between the two countries in 1974, forcing Israel out of parts of the Golan Heights and the destroyed capital of the Quneitra province.

The dispute between Israel and Syria over the territory has yet to be resolved.


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