UN peacekeepers ‘return to Golan Heights patrol’

Syrian fighters and civilians celebrate the return of government authority to the southern town of Quneitra adjacent to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights (AP) Credit: AP/Press Association Images

UN peacekeepers have returned to patrol the frontier between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for the first time since 2014, Russian authorities said.

A Russian Defence Ministry spokesman told reporters in Moscow that the UN peacekeepers, aided by Russian forces, conducted their first patrolling mission in the area earlier in the day.

The development also marked the first time that Russian forces, a major ally of the Damascus government, where involved in the patrols.

The peacekeeping mission was halted in 2014 amid the violence in Syrian’s civil war over security concerns.

“As the situation stabilises, these posts will be handed over to Syrian government forces,” the spokesman said.

The UN peacekeeping forces first deployed along the frontier in 1974 to separate Syrian and Israeli forces after Israel occupied the Golan Heights in the 1967 war.

After Syria’s civil war erupted, clashes broke out between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and rebels inside the disengagement zone.

In 2014, al Qaida militants in the area kidnapped 45 UN peacekeepers before releasing them after two weeks. The UN withdrew from many of its positions shortly after that incident.

Meanwhile, an Israeli military spokesman said the country’s forces had targeted and killed seven “armed terror operatives” who had crossed into Israeli territory in the southern Golan Heights.

Israel tracked the armed infiltrators who approached the border on Wednesday night and a military aircraft struck as they attempted to cross a security fence on the Israeli side of the frontier.

A subsequent search of the area yielded several assault rifles and explosives. The spokesman said a preliminary assessment was that the infiltrators were Islamic State militants.

Israeli troops were on “high alert and readiness” following the strike.

Israel’s defence minister said the situation on the border with Syria has reverted to the way it was “before the civil war” now that Syrian government forces have recaptured the area.

Avigdor Lieberman toured a Patriot missile battery in northern Israel on Thursday after Russia said it reached an agreement to keep Iranian forces about 50 miles away from the Syrian-Israeli frontier.

Mr Lieberman said that Israel had “no cause to intervene or operate in Syrian territory” if Damascus respects the 1974 disengagement agreement, and as long as Syria does not become a staging ground for Iranian forces to attack Israel or transfer arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon.