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Israeli border crossing with Syria to reopen for UN staff

Israel Defense ‎Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel was ready to reopen the ‎Quneitra ‎crossing, closed in 2014 after Syrian ‎rebels overran it. Syrian forces have ‎regained control of the area. ‎

An old Israeli tank with a flag overlooking the Syrian town of Quneitra in the Golan Heights on Feb. 11, 2018. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
An old Israeli tank with a flag overlooking the Syrian town of Quneitra in the Golan Heights on Feb. 11, 2018. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.

Israel Defense ‎Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday during a ‎visit to the Israel-Syria border that his only interest is “keeping Israel safe.” ‎

Speaking with reporters near the Quneitra border ‎crossing, he said: “I don’t care about a ‎Palestinian state. I care about the Jewish state, and ‎we have far more acute issues.‎”

‎Lieberman said “the fact that Israel’s population includes 20 percent ‎Arabs, who time and again stage protests while ‎waving Palestinian flags and not the Israeli one—that’s a problem for me. That’s an issue that we have ‎to deal with.” ‎

Touching on security tensions on the Israel-Syria ‎border, the defense minister said that Israel has ‎never had any interest in intervening in the Syrian ‎civil war, and stressed that any Israeli actions ‎taken in Syria “seek first and foremost to ensure ‎the safety and security of the Israeli public.”

He added that Israel was ready to reopen the ‎Quneitra ‎crossing, closed in 2014 after Syrian ‎rebels overran it. Syrian forces have recently ‎regained control of the area. ‎

‎“The fact that UNDOF forces, assisted by the IDF, are ‎patrolling the area again is a sign we a ready to ‎open the crossing,” said Lieberman. ‎

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was ‎first deployed on both sides of the Golan Heights ‎border in 1974 as part of the Separation of Forces ‎Agreement between Israel and Syria after the 1973 ‎Yom Kippur War. Under the agreement, UNDOF is the ‎only force authorized to be in the buffer zone, and ‎its role is to monitor the military presence of both ‎sides near the border.‎

But the United Nations pulled UNDOF out of the Syrian side of ‎the border in September 2014, after it was ‎determined that the Syrian rebel groups posed a ‎direct threat to the safety.‎

Lieberman stressed that Israel “remains committed to ‎every article in the 1974 agreement. We check ‎ourselves daily, and we’re in constant contact with ‎UNDOF. I hope here, too, life will soon return to ‎normal.”‎

He noted the Russian Military Police troops deployed ‎in Syria were patrolling the Quneitra ‎crossing as ‎well in an effort to maintain calm. ‎

Asked whether reopening the crossing serves as an ‎Israeli acknowledgment of Syrian President Bashar ‎Assad’s post-war rule, Lieberman said, “Assad is not ‎our friend. He is a war criminal, but I don’t see all ‎the international groups that are so worried about ‎human-rights violation demanding explanations from ‎Assad.‎

‎“That’s none of our business though,” he stressed. “Our only ‎concern is Israel’s security.”

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