Sole crossing between Syria and Israel-occupied Golan reopens

Two key borders reopen in a major boost to the Syrian government as it takes over most rebels areas.

     A Syrian soldier stands guard at the Nassib border crossing with Jordan [File:Omar Sanadiki/Reuters]
    A Syrian soldier stands guard at the Nassib border crossing with Jordan [File:Omar Sanadiki/Reuters]

    The only crossing point between Syria and Israeli-occupied territory of Golan Heights has reopened for UN observers, four years after closing due to the civil war in Syria.

    Two white United Nations jeeps crossed into the Golan Heights on Monday through the reopened crossing near the Syrian border town of Quneitra after a deal between Israel, Syria and the UN.

    A Syrian woman walks towards the crossing checkpoint border between Jordan and Syria [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters] 

    UN observers and local notables from the Druze community, the predominant population in the area, gathered near the crossing.

    The UN observers had left the Quneitra crossing in 2014 for the first time since deploying there in 1974 to monitor a ceasefire and a demilitarised zone. Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967.

    Syrian forces recaptured the Quneitra area in July.

    Russian military police deployed in the area, including on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, setting up checkpoints in the area.

    Moscow said it planned to work closely with the UN force.

    "It is a day of victory," Youssef Jarbou, a Druze leader, told the Syrian Al-Ikhbariya TV from Quneitra.

    Meanwhile, another crossing between Syria and Jordan reopened on Monday, too, for the first time in three years, promising to restore trade and movement between the two countries that had halted because of the war.

    The passage "is a vital lifeline for trade between the two brotherly countries Jordan and Syria through them to other Arab countries," Jumana Ghunaimat said, spokesperson for the Jordanian government, according to Petra news agency.

    The Nassib re-opening took place at 8am (05:00 GMT) and it came as a major boost to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. It also reinforces the Syrian government's message that it is slowly emerging victorious from the seven-year conflict.

    Dozens of private cars lined up to cross from Jordan. Security personnel and dogs searched the vehicles.

    "Today is a feast, a feast for the whole Arab and Islamic nations and for the whole World, this crossing is vital for the whole Arab countries," said Mohammed Khalil, the first Syrian in line waiting to cross back into his country.

    Iraq's foreign minister also praised the move, saying Syria should not be isolated from its Arab neighbours, and lauded Damascus for staying "strong" and united in the face of many adversities.

    Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said he hoped the al-Bukamal border crossing with neighbouring Iraq would open as soon as possible.

    "We look to the interests of both the Syrian and Iraqi people in opening the al-Bukamal crossing," Moualem told reporters at a joint conference with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who is visiting Damascus.

    A Jordanian policeman opens the gate of Jordan's Jaber border crossing checkpoint near Syria's Nasib checkpoint [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

    Boycotting the Syrian government

    Arab countries have boycotted the Syrian government since the early days of the war, freezing its membership in the 22-member state Arab League.

    Syrian rebels seized the Nassib crossing in 2015, disrupting a major trade route between Syria and Jordan, Lebanon and oil-rich Gulf countries.

    Syrian government troops recaptured it in July, after rebels reached an agreement with Russian mediators to end the violence in the southern province of Deraa and surrender the crossing.

    The crossing is also vital for Syria's neighbour Lebanon, providing its agricultural products with a route to foreign markets.

    Nearly 450,000 Syrians have been killed in the war and the country has been devastated by the violence that drew the involvement of regional and international powers, as well as foreign fighters.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies