Patrol role highlights Moscow’s strength in Middle East

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Patrol role highlights Moscow’s strength in Middle East


A member of the Russian military police and Syrian government
forces patrol near the village al-Hamidia in the Syrian Golan Heights. Photo: Andrey Borodulin/ AFP/Getty Images
A member of the Russian military police and Syrian government
forces patrol near the village al-Hamidia in the Syrian Golan Heights. Photo: Andrey Borodulin/ AFP/Getty Images

Russian military police have begun patrolling the demilitarised zone between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights, highlighting Moscow’s increasing clout as a Middle Eastern power broker following its intervention in the civil war there.

“The Russian military police are pioneers in renewing patrols of the Golan Heights,” Lt Gen Sergei Kuralenko told journalists at a damaged United Nations observer post.

“There is almost no danger besides from mines. The whole demilitarised zone (DMZ) is under control now.”

Following the start of the Syrian conflict, militants drove out the UN peacekeepers that had served in the area since 1974.

The pockmarked guardhouses and discarded ammo and rocket-propelled grenade launcher boxes testified to the fierce fighting between Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the Nusra Front before government forces pushed the al-Qa’ida-linked jihadist group from the post and the wider area last month.

The militants turned many of the UN posts into suicide bomber schools, Mr Kuralenko said during a tour organised by the Russian defence ministry.

The mission of Moscow’s forces is to help the UN disengagement observer force restart its monitoring of the zone, he said. They have mapped safe routes and accompanied UN observers down the MCM road through the DMZ this month, he added. Russian military police have four bases in the area and will establish more on Bravo Line, the side of the zone held by Syria.

President Vladimir Putin began backing his ally Mr Assad with bombing runs in 2015, but the Russian role has expanded to include military advisers, police, private military contractors and, according to some reports, ground forces.

As it helped turn the conflict in Mr Assad’s favour, Russia has positioned itself as a major voice in determining the post-war order, holding negotiations with rebels and serving as an intermediary with other governments in the region.

Meanwhile, Syria’s defence minister met with the head of the UN disengagement observer force to discuss co-ordinating peacekeepers’ deployment and opening the Quneitra gate for Syrians to cross from the Israeli-occupied area into Syria, state news agency SANA reported.

Benjamin Netanyahu has travelled to Russia to meet with Mr Putin and discuss Israel’s concerns over Mr Assad’s other major backer Iran, which has a long history of co-operation with Russia.

Moscow said this month it brokered a deal to keep Iranian forces at least 80km back from Israel’s border with Syria in the Golan Heights. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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