World News

Israel prepared to reopen Golan crossing with Syria: defense chief

Slideshow ( 2 images )

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is ready to reopen a crossing point into the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights now that Syrian government forces have regained control from rebels, Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday.

But Lieberman, on a visit to the Israeli-held side of the Quneitra crossing, said any resumption of operations at the facility depended on Syria.

“The fact that we have come here, to Alpha Gate, and as far as we are concerned UNDOF forces have begun to operate and patrol with the Israeli military’s assistance, says that we are ready for the crossing to reopen,” he told reporters, in comments distributed by his ministry.

Lieberman was referring to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, whose monitoring operations in a demilitarized zone established in 1974 between the Israeli-occupied Golan and the Syrian sector were disrupted by Syria’s civil war.

“At the moment, the ball is in the Syrian court,” Lieberman said.

Military police from Russia, a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have been patrolling on the Syrian side of Quneitra, where Lieberman said Syrian police and customs officials were also present.

In the past, Lieberman said, traffic through Quneitra mainly comprised shipments into Syria of apples grown by Druze farmers on the Israeli-controlled Golan - and the entry of brides for partners on both sides of the armistice line.

Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war and fought Syria again on the strategic plateau in a 1973 conflict.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich