Russian troops and personnel from the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria have carried out a patrol of recently liberated settlements in Syria's Quneitra governorate and the UN-demarked demilitarized border area with the Israeli-held portion of the Golan Heights. The patrol was conducted from the central to the southern portion of the territory, and included visits to the settlements of al-Rafid, Adra and Maariya.
"In this area, we ensured the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the population affected by the fighting," patrol deputy commander Lieut. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko said, speaking to reporters. "We are overseeing the observance of the UN resolution on arms limitations along the Bravo Line on the Syrian side. In this way, we are assisting the UN body in monitoring reconciliation."
The patrol also checked the security of the routes along which UN peacekeepers travel in their mission to observe the ceasefire in the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel.
"We are confident that UN patrols will follow in the tracks of the Russian military police," Kuralenko said. "UN forces have not been in these areas for over six years, and today people see only the flags of Russia and Syria. I am confident that our efforts will help the UN forces fulfill their tasks in the central part of the demilitarized zone, and in its southernmost point. It can be said that in carrying out our tasks in the town of Rafid, as well as the settlements of Adra and Maariya, we have paved the way for the UN forces."
The Golan Heights is an 1,800-square-kilometer piece of Syrian territory, 1,200 square kilometers of which was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War and formally annexed in 1981. The UN Security Council condemned the annexation of the region and called the decision to impose Israeli "laws, jurisdiction and administration" over the territory "null and void and without international legal effect." In 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Tel Aviv would never return the occupied portion of the Golan Heights to Syria. The UN deployed the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) for Syria in 1974 and tasked it with ensuring the maintenance of the ceasefire between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic. The UNDOF pulled out of the area in 2014 after coming under repeat attack from al-Qaeda-affiliated militants*. UN peacekeepers returned to the Golan Heights last month after the Syrian Army cleared the territory of the terrorists.
Friendly relations between Russia and Israel took a turn for the worse this week after the Russian military lost contact with the crew of a Russian Il-20 military aircraft during an Israeli attack on Syrian targets in Latakia. It was later revealed that the plane had been brought down by friendly fire from Syria. On Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense accused the Israeli military of deliberately creating a dangerous situation by using the Russian plane as a shield against Syrian air defense systems. All 15 servicemen onboard the Russian plane were killed.
*A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.