Russia to help UN peacekeepers in Golan

Russian military says its forces will help UN peacekeepers restore patrols along Syria and Israel border.

Ben Ariel,

UNDOF peacekeepers in Golan Heights
UNDOF peacekeepers in Golan Heights
Flash 90

The Russian military said on Tuesday that its forces in Syria will help UN peacekeepers fully restore patrols along the volatile frontier between Syria and Israel, reports The Associated Press.

The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) withdrew in 2014 after Al-Qaeda-linked rebels overran the area, but recently returned to the region and carried out its first patrol since leaving.

The Russian deployment in the area has highlighted Moscow's growing clout in the region, marking a successful attempt to balance the sharply conflicting interests of Israel and Iran.

"The Russian flag is the guarantor of peace and security on that land," said Lt. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko on Tuesday, according to AP. He noted that Russian and Israeli officials have maintained regular communications, adding that "operations by Russian military police help ensure the security of Israel."

Kuralenko said that the Russian military police have set up four checkpoints on the edge of the demilitarized zone and plan to add another four.

"The Russian military police work in close interaction with the UN," he said, adding that they have set up a hotline with UNDOF and held regular meetings to coordinate their actions.

Speaking to international reporters on a trip to the area organized by the Russian Defense Ministry, Kuralenko noted that a top priority for the Russian military police is to help clear mines left by militants. He said Russian forces have inspected the demilitarized zone and adjacent areas to help UNDOF map safe routes.

"We are offering all possible assistance to the UN mission to allow it to resume its operations in the demilitarized zone in full," Kuralenko said, adding that the Russian military police will be ready to leave once the UN mission fully takes charge.

The UN peacekeepers first deployed in the area in 1974 under a deal to separate Syrian and Israeli forces.

In late August of 2014, rebels on the Syrian side including Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front kidnapped more than 40 Fijian UNDOF troops and released them unharmed two weeks later.

The fighters also clashed with 75 Filipino members of the force, who eventually fled a nearby outpost in a worrying sign of spillover from Syria's war and were recalled back to their home country.

The rebel forces at the time seized UN weapons, equipment and uniforms in a campaign that saw the Syrian Golan Heights fall completely into their hands.

Russia-backed Syrian government forces have recently regained control of the area from the Al-Qaeda jihadists, allowing the UN peacekeepers to return.

By deploying its forces along the Syrian-Israeli frontier, Moscow has sought to assuage Israeli concerns about the Iranian presence in Syria.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran, or its proxy Hezbollah terrorist group, to establish a permanent presence in Syria. Russia says that it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to fully withdraw from Syria.

Two weeks ago, however, Russia announced it struck a deal with Tehran to keep its fighters 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the Golan Heights.








top