Russian Defense Ministry announced yesterday the United Nations peacekeepers have returned to patrol the frontier between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for the first time in years.
Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian General Staff said that Russian military police yesterday began patrolling in the Golan Heights and planned to set up eight observation posts in the area. He said the Russian presence there was in support of United Nations peacekeepers on the Golan Heights who, he said, had suspended their activities in the area in 2012 because their safety was endangered.
"Today, U.N. peacekeepers accompanied by Russian military police conducted their first patrols in six years in the separation zone," Rudskoy told a briefing for journalists in Moscow, Reuters reported. "With the aim of preventing possible provocations against U.N. posts along the ‘Bravo' line, the deployment is planned of eight observation posts of Russia's armed forces' military police," Rudskoy said. He said the Russian presence there was temporary, and that the observation posts would be handed over to Syrian regime forces once the situation stabilized.
With Assad now in almost complete control of southwestern areas abutting the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights, Russia had offered to keep Iranian forces at least 100 km (60 miles) from the Golan Heights cease-fire line. The offer came up during a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The deployment of the Russian military police highlights the degree to which the Kremlin has become an influential actor in Middle East conflicts since its military intervention in Syria which turned the tide of the war in Assad's favor. Israel has been lobbying the Kremlin to use its influence with Assad, and with Tehran, to try to get the Iranian military presence in Syria scaled back.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community. Israel opposes Assad but has sought to avoid being dragged into Syria's civil war. However, it has carried out strikes to stop arms deliveries to the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which fights alongside Assad's forces. Israel fought a war against Hezbollah in 2006. While formally neutral in the seven-year-old civil war next door, Israel has carried out scores of air strikes against suspected emplacements or arms transfers by Iranian or Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas in Syria, apparently unimpeded by the Russian defense systems deployed there. A military hotline Israel and Russia set up in 2015 has also helped the countries avoid inadvertently clashing over Syria.
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