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Syrians living in Golan excited about reopening borders with home country

Syrians living in the occupied Golan Heights have expressed excitement about the imminent opening of the border crossing with their home country.

Salman Fakhreddin, a Golan activist, told Arab News that different groups in the area had been waiting for years to be able to travel.

“Apple farmers will be able to sell their products in Syria for much better rates than they are getting now because the market has been flooded with apples.” Fakhreddin also noted that students could finish their university studies in Syria, which had provided scholarships for Golani students.

The UN Disengagement Observer Force, (UNDOF) has begun to slowly return to the border between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria. As of August 2018, UNDOF has 323 Nepalize peacekeeping police, 285 from Fiji, 180 from India and 127 from Ireland.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman welcomed the return of the UNDOF soldiers and indicated that Israel would welcome the reopening of the border posts. “UNDOF troops have started working and patrolling, with IDF assistance. This shows that we are ready to open the crossing as it was before. The ball is now in Syria’s court,” Liberman said.

This Israeli offer to reopen the Quneitra Crossing would restore the situation along the border between the two countries to what it was prior to the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011.

UNDOF pulled out of their posts four years ago due to the security situation.

Speaking by phone from his apple orchard in the village of Majdel Shams, Fakhreddin told Arab News that Russian police are now patrolling the areas closest to the borders with the occupied Golan Heights. “As far as many of us are concerned the Russian police might be better than the security of the Syrian government,” he said.

While the Israelis appear to be intent on the reopening of the borders, it is not clear what is holding up the Syrians. Relations between Russia and Israel have been tense lately due to the role of the Israelis in the downing of a Russian plane that caused the death of 15 Russian soldiers on Sept. 18.

Israeli Defense Minister Liberman stressed to reporters that Israel was demanding that Syria abide by “every single section” of the 1974 cease-fire agreement between the two countries, which ended the 1973 Yom Kippur War and created a demilitarized zone along the border.

From early March 1974, the situation in the Israel-Syria sector became increasingly unstable. The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was established on May 31, 1974 by Security Council resolution 350 (1974), following the agreed disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan.

UNDOF stated on its website that during the Syrian conflict there were violations of the cease-fire, with the escalation of military activity in the area of separation patrolled by UNDOF peacekeepers. On June 29, 2017, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2361 (2017) renewing UNDOF’s mandate until December 2017, and strongly condemned the use of heavy weapons by Syrian armed forces and armed groups in the area.
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