NEW YORK/ MOSCOW: UN peacekeepers have carried out the first patrol since 2014 to a key crossing point between the Syrian and Israeli-occupied Golan Heights after liaising with Russia, Israel and Syria, a UN spokesman said on Friday.
Thursday’s patrol at the Quneitra crossing point was the first since the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) withdrew in 2014 after Al-Qaeda-linked militants overran the area.
Syrian regime forces, backed by Russia, have in past weeks recaptured territory near the Golan Heights, driving out opposition groups from a “de-escalation zone” agreed by Jordan, Russia and the US.
The “patrol to the Quneitra crossing point is part of UNDOF’s ongoing efforts to return incrementally to the area of separation,” said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.
He said the mission liaised with both the Syrian Arab Armed Forces and Israel’s Defense Forces ahead of the patrol. Syrian troops and Russian military police also carried out “simultaneous” patrols of the area, said Haq.
After the Russian army said on Thursday it planned to deploy eight military observation posts in the Golan, the UN spokesman said any Russian military presence would be “separate and distinct from that of UNDOF.”
The UN is aiming for the full return of UNDOF to the Syrian side. Currently, more than half of UNDOF’s 978 troops are deployed on the so-called Bravo (Syrian) side. UNDOF has carried out more than 30 patrols in the northern and central parts of the area of separation since it resumed its activities on the Syrian side in February.
Established in 1974, UNDOF monitors a cease-fire line that has separated Israelis from Syrians in the Golan Heights. Israel seized much of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move the international community has not recognized.
Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed on Saturday that it had proposed cooperating with the US on Syrian refugees and de-mining in a letter sent to the top US general in July.
The proposals on refugees concerned a refugee camp in Rukban, the ministry said in a statement.
In the letter, Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, said Moscow was ready to discuss with Damascus safety guarantees for refugees stranded at Rukban, as well as creating conditions for their return home.
Rukban lies within a 55 km so-called de-confliction zone set up by the US to ensure the safety of its garrison close to the Iraqi-Syrian border.
“A proposal was also made to coordinate humanitarian de-mining, including in Raqqa, and other priority humanitarian issues,” the Russian ministry said.
Reuters reported the letter on Friday, citing a US government memo.