International

Israel says ready for UN crossing with Syria to reopen

Israel is prepared to open its side of the crossing point with Syria following the return of the UN peacekeepers to the Golan Heights after four years, the army said Saturday.

Israeli soldiers stand guard at the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on September  27, 2018
Israeli soldiers stand guard at the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on September 27, 2018 (AFP)

Israel is prepared to open its side of the crossing point with Syria following the return of the UN peacekeepers to the Golan Heights after four years, the army said Saturday.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman "authorised the reopening of the Alpha gate of the Quneitra Crossing between Israel and Syria, allowing the UN to resume activity via the crossing pending Syria's reopening their side," it said.

The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) resumed its patrols in the area of the crossing point in August, after withdrawing in 2014 when Al-Qaeda-linked rebels overran the area, three years into Syria's devastating civil war.

The return of the UN force was made possible after Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, recaptured territory near the Golan Heights, driving out rebel groups from a "de-escalation zone" agreed by Jordan, Russia and the United States.

Quneitra crossing is "an operational crossing for UNDOF in the implementation of its mandate," according to Nick Birnback, a spokesman for UN Peacekeeping in New York.

UNDOF is working to "complete the rehabilitation of the Quneitra crossing" which is expected to be reopened soon, Birnback said in an email on Friday.

Israel seized much of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community.

Established in 1974, UNDOF monitors a ceasefire line separating Israeli-occupied parts of the Golan Heights from Syria.

The Quneitra crossing served a portal for Druze living on the Israeli side who wished to travel to Syria for higher education or weddings. Druze farmers also exported apples to Syria through Quneitra.

At a tour of the Israeli side of the crossing on Thursday, Lieberman said that once Quneitra was open, authorities would have to "consider each possibility (for the crossing's use) according to the security situation."

"We're in different times now," he said.

Israel was "ready to open the crossing as it had been in the past," Lieberman told journalists accompanying him at the site.

"The ball is now in the Syrians' court."