UN peacekeepers return after 4 years to Israel-occupied Golan Heights near Syria

Russia's Defence Ministry says UN peacekeepers returned on Thursday to patrol the frontier between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for the first time in years — Moscow's latest achievement in efforts to negotiate a solution to the crisis along the volatile border.

Russia says Syrian government forces will eventually man the posts, Israel is not commenting

UN peacekeeping soldiers leave the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, on Aug. 31, 2013. It was not immediately clear how many UN troops have now returned to the contested area. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Russia's Defence Ministry says UN peacekeepers returned on Thursday to patrol the frontier between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for the first time in years — 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 news conference in Moscow that the UN 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, were involved in the patrols.

The peacekeeping mission was halted in 2014, over security concerns, amid the violence in Syria's civil war.

"As the situation stabilizes, these posts will be handed over to Syrian government forces," Rudskoy told reporters.

The UN 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.

Dozens kidnapped in 2014

After Syria's civil war began, clashes between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels began inside the disengagement zone. In 2014, al-Qaeda militants in the area kidnapped 45 UN peacekeepers before releasing them after two weeks. The UN withdrew from many of its positions shortly after that incident.

Israel's military spokesperson, 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.

Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian Military General Staff addresses the media in Moscow on Thursday in front of a screen showing the map of Israel, Jordan and Syria. Rudskoy said Russian troops are assisting the UN peacekeepers. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

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 in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.

Israeli troops were on "high alert and readiness" following the strike. The army's announcement came shortly after Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman toured a Patriot missile defence battery in northern Israel during a military preparedness drill.

In Amman, Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that the Syrian government has not officially requested to open the Syria-Jordan border, after government forces recaptured its side of a crossing from rebels last month.

Jordan has been in discussion with Russian authorities, Safadi said, and will respond to Syria's request "positively," in a way that supports Jordanian and Syrian interests.