MOSCOW – U.N. peacekeepers returned on Thursday to patrol the frontier between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for the first time in years, Russia's Defense Ministry announced — Moscow's latest achievement in efforts to negotiate a solution to the crisis along the volatile border.
Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian General Staff told reporters at a press conference in Moscow that the U.N. peacekeepers, aided by Russian forces, conducted their first patrolling mission in the area earlier in the day.
The development also marked the first time that Russian forces, a major ally of the Damascus government, where involved in the patrols.
The peacekeeping mission was halted back in 2014 amid the violence in Syrian's civil war over security concerns.
"As the situation stabilizes, these posts will be handed over to Syrian government forces," Rudskoy told reporters.
The U.N. peacekeeping forces first deployed along the frontier in 1974 to separate Syrian and Israeli forces after Israel occupied the Golan Heights in the 1967 war.
After Syria's civil war erupted, clashes broke out between Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces and rebels inside the disengagement zone. In 2014, al-Qaida militants in the area kidnapped 45 U.N. peacekeepers before releasing them after two weeks. The U.N. withdrew from many of its positions shortly after that incident.
Israel's military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, said in a telephone briefing with reporters that he could not immediately comment on the deployment on the Syrian side of the border.
Also Thursday, Conricus said the Israeli military targeted and killed seven "armed terror operatives" who had crossed into Israeli territory in the southern Golan Heights.
Israel tracked the armed infiltrators who approached the border on Wednesday night and a military aircraft struck as they attempted to cross a security fence on the Israeli side of the frontier.
A subsequent search of the area yielded several assault rifles and explosives, Conricus added. He said a preliminary assessment was that the infiltrators were Islamic State militants.
Israeli troops were on "high alert and readiness" following the strike. The army's announcement came shortly after Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman toured a Patriot missile defense battery in northern Israel during a military preparedness drill.
Associated Press writers Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem, and Sarah El Deeb and Philip Issa in Beirut contributed to this report.