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UN Confirms Return Of Peacekeepers To Syrian-Israeli Border

UN Disengagement Observer Force along the Syrian-Israeli frontier in 2014.

United Nations has confirmed Russia's claim that UN peacekeepers have returned to a buffer zone on the border between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for the first time in six years.

UN spokesman Farhan Haq said on August 3 that the force, known as UNDOF, is "implementing a gradual return" to the area.

"The ultimate goal for UNDOF is full return, conditions permitting," he said, adding that a key goal for the peacekeepers is the reopening of the Quneitra crossing between the two countries.

Syrian government forces, backed Russian air power, have recently retaken full control of Syria's Quneitra Province and other border areas with Israel and Jordan.

UNDOF had patrolled the Golan Heights area until 2012 under a 1974 cease-fire deal between Israel and Syria that created a UN-monitored buffer zone between the two countries following the Arab-Israeli War of 1973.

But the UN forces were driven out during Syria's long and chaotic civil war, with Syrian rebel groups -- including an affiliate of the Islamic State extremist group -- becoming entrenched in parts of the border area.

In a swift campaign this summer, Russia and Syria ousted the last of the rebel groups and reasserted control of the region, where by some accounts the Syrian civil war began with an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule in 2011.

Russia announced on August 2 that UN peacekeepers had returned to the area and were patrolling alongside Russian military police.

But Haq emphasized that the Russian military police patrols have been kept "separate and distinct" from the UN peacekeeping force.

Russian officials have said their police are there, in part, to ensure that no Iranian fighters or facilities are stationed within 85 kilometers of Israel's border, in keeping with an agreement recently reached with Israel.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa