Russia says UN peacekeepers back on Israel-Syria border
JALAA MAREY (AFP)
United Nations peacekeepers have returned to patrol the border between Syria and Israel for the first time since in years, a senior Russian military official said on Thursday.
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian General staff said the UN peacekeepers accompanied by Russian forces together conducted their first joint patrolling mission in six years on Thursday.
“With the aim of preventing possible provocations against UN posts along the ‘Bravo’ line, the deployment is planned of eight observation posts of Russia’s armed forces’ military police,” Rudskoi said.
He explained that the Russian presence was temporary and that once the situation had stabilized the observation posts would be handed over to Syrian government troops.
Since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a deadly campaign to take over the last rebel strongholds in the southwest of the country where anti-government protests sparked a bloody civil war nearly eight years ago, Israel has been closely watching developments across the border.
Iran’s attempt to entrench itself in Syria has been Israel’s longstanding primary concern, however, amid Assad’s recent onslaught to retake pockets of jihadist-held territory Islamic State terrorists have scattered towards the border. During the conflict, there has been occasional spillover fire to which Israel has responded punishingly.
Ahead of the redeployment of UN forces on Thursday, the IDF announced that its aircraft carried out an overnight strike in the Golan Heights killing seven armed Islamic State-affiliated “terror operatives” who breached Israeli territory from Syria.
Israel has sought to avoid direct involvement in the Syrian conflict but acknowledges carrying out dozens of air strikes there to stop what it says are deliveries of advanced weaponry to its Lebanese enemy Hezbollah and other Iran-backed forces.
"We do not interfere or intervene in Syria's internal affairs," defense minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday while visiting Israeli air defenses.
But he said, that is provided that Syria fulfill strict observance of a 1974 armistice agreement, not allowing Iran to use Syria as a front against Israel, and not allowing Syria to be used as a transit point for advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah.
Israel has been lobbying the Kremlin to utilize its influence over Assad and with Iran, to try to push the Iranian military presence in Syria away from its border. Officials from the two countries have met several times over the past couple of months to discuss Israel’s security concerns.
On Wednesday presidential envoy to Russia, Alexander Lavrentyev said that Russia had succeeded in withdrawing Iranian forces in Syria 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the Israeli-Syrian border. "Of course, we take into account the interests of neighboring states, interests of Israel, our president spoke about that,” he said in an interview with Sputnik.
Last month, following a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel rejected the Russian offer to distance Iranian troops some 40 to 80 kilometers from its border deeming it insufficient.
Russia has since called it “absolutely unrealistic” to expect a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country. However, Israel is unyielding in its demand to prevent Tehran from gaining a foothold in the war-torn country.
On Monday Russia’s ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov told Channel 10 news that Iran is playing a “very important role” in Syria. "At this stage we think that demands to remove the foreign fighters from Syrian territory are not realistic,” he added.
Syria splintered into civil war in 2011 when Assad's regime violently repressed demonstrations against his rule during the pro-democracy Arab spring. In recent years, the government has slowly gained an upper hand against opposition rebels and global powers have backed away from demanding the dictator's ouster.
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UN a waste.