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The Latest: Israeli military welcomes reopening of crossing

An Israeli soldier opens the border gates as an UN vehicle enters Syria in Quneitra crossing in the Israeli controlled Golan, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. The crossing between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights reopened for U.N. observers who had left the area four years ago because of the fighting there. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):

2:30 p.m.

An Israeli military official says the opening of a crossing between the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria “re-empowers” the United Nations after being driven out of the area by Syrian rebels.

Maj. Nehemia Berki spoke on Monday at a U.N. ceremony marking the reopening. He says it “symbolizes the reinforcement of the 1974 disengagement agreements between the two sides and re-empowers the UN ability to enforce the accords.”

Berki acts as the liaison between the Israeli army and the U.N.

The U.N. has been monitoring a military disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria since 1974. But its forces were driven out by rebels who took hold of the area and the Quneitra crossing was closed in 2014.

Syrian forces recaptured the Quneitra area in July paving the way for the crossing’s reopening.

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2:20 p.m.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has praised the agreement between Jordan and Syria to open a main border crossing between the two countries, saying it will benefit Beirut.

Aoun’s statement on Monday says the deal will “allow individuals and products to move to and from Arab countries.”

Lebanese imports to oil-rich gulf nations had been hardly hit since the Naseeb border crossing closed in 2015. Since then, some Lebanese exporters have relied on sea and air transport for such exports.

Aoun said Lebanese politicians should take advantage of all opportunities to help the country’s economy.

Lebanese politicians are sharply divided between supporter and opponent of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Some politicians, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri, say they are against visiting Syria.

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1:50 p.m.

Syria’s foreign minister says it’s “impossible” for his government to give up on the “vital” oil-rich eastern Syria, controlled by U.S-backed Kurdish-led forces.

Walid al-Moallem says the eastern banks of the Euphrates River will be the government’s next target, once the situation in rebel-held northwestern Idlib province is resolved.

A Russia-Turkey deal for Idlib averted an all-out offensive on the province, home to 3 million people.

Al-Moallem said Monday the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces “must decide what they want,” and abandon “illusions” they’ll get a federal system. He says the government is determined to bring all of Syria under its control.

About 40 percent of Syria remains out of Damascus’ control now. The eastern part is controlled by Kurdish-led, U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which chased Islamic State militants out of there.

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1:35 p.m.

A senior Syrian opposition leader says he hopes the Russia-Turkey deal that averted a government offensive on the rebel-held Idlib province becomes a launch pad for negotiations on an inclusive political transition.

Ahmed Tumah, who heads the opposition-led Turkey-backed government, says the rebels have lived up to their part of the deal by withdrawing their heavy weapons from the demilitarized zone.

Under the Russia-Turkey deal struck last month, a demilitarized zone free of radical groups is to be set up by Monday between the rebel stronghold and Syrian government forces.

Tumah says the deal doesn’t have a timeline and will go on “until we find a successful political solution.” Tumah says he hopes it would translate into a complete cease-fire. He spoke in Istanbul.

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1:30 p.m.

United Nations personnel have passed through a reopened crossing between Israel and Syria, for the first time since the crossing was shuttered because of the civil war next door.

The U.N. oversaw Monday’s reopening ceremony of the Quneitra crossing, on the Israeli-held Golan Heights. The crossing was closed in 2014 after rebel groups moved into the area, driving out the U.N. force.

Syrian forces recaptured the Quneitra area in July. The U.N. has been monitoring a military disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria since 1974. The reopened crossing will for now be used exclusively for U.N. forces, Israel’s military said.

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the U.N. forces took up positions on the Israeli side and redeployed to headquarters on the Syrian side.

Israel seized the Golan Heights in the 1967 Mideast war.

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12:30 p.m.

Syrian Foreign Minister says his country will give its ally Russia time to assess whether Turkey and the Syrian armed opposition have fulfilled their part of the cease-fire deal in Idlib province.

The deal negotiated between Russia and Turkey last month averted a Syrian government military offensive on the rebel-held province, the largest remaining stronghold for rebel fighters and radical groups in Syria.

As part of the deal, rebel groups have already removed their heavy weapons from a buffer zone between Syrian government forces and their stronghold.

By Monday, the radical groups, which are the most dominant in the enclave, must evacuate the demilitarized zone.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said on Monday that the Syrian government wants Idlib to return to its control but that it prefers reconciliation rather than military action.

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11:50 a.m.

Iraq’s foreign minister says Syria should not be isolated from its Arab neighbors, and lauded Damascus for staying “strong” and united in the face of many adversities.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari spoke during a visit to the Syrian capital on Monday. He says Syria must find its way back to the Arab fold.

The 22-member Arab League froze Syria’s membership following the start of the civil war in 2011, which was followed by sanctions and the severing of diplomatic ties.

Al-Jaafari added that “no one should isolate Syria” and that he has been advocating dialogue to restore ties.

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

Al-Jaafari said Syria and Iraq have been victorious in their fight against the Islamic State group, which now only controls small pockets in Syria.

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11:30 a.m.

Syria’s state-run news agency says hundreds of Syrian refugees have crossed into the country from neighboring Lebanon, the last batch to return home in recent weeks.

SANA says buses carrying the returnees arrived at Syrian border crossings on Monday. It’s the fifth group of refugees to return home from Lebanon. The Lebanese English-language newspaper, Daily Star, said more than 800 were crossing into Syria.

The Syrian government has been calling on refugees to return home, saying the war has subsided. Last week, President Bashar Assad granted general amnesty to army deserters, a move designed to boost the number of returning refugees. U.N. officials say it is too early for organized mass return.

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10:45 a.m.

A vital border crossing linking Syria and Jordan has reopened for the first time in three years, promising to restore commercial trade and travel between the two countries.

Another crossing, for U.N. observers along the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights has also reopened on Monday. Syria State TV showed the Syrian flag raised at the crossing which has been closed for four years because of the fighting.

The Quneitra crossing will only be opened for the U.N. observers for now, who have been stationed there to monitor a cease-fire between the two countries since 1974. But the observers left the crossing as Syria’s civil war made it unsafe.

At Naseeb crossing, dozens of private cars lined up to cross from Jordan. Security personnel and dogs searched the vehicles.

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10 a.m.

Jordan and Syria have agreed to reopen a vital border crossing between the two countries, three years after the commercial lifeline fell to rebel groups and traffic was halted.

Israel also said on Sunday that the Quneitra crossing with Syria will reopen on Monday to U.N. observers, four years after it was closed because of the fighting.

The reopening of the crossings is a major boost to the Syrian government, keen on sending messages to its citizens and the world that it is slowly emerging victorious from the bloody conflict and beginning to restore vital services and relations. In eastern Syria, state TV said its broadcast has returned to Deir el-Zour city, seven years after it was halted when armed groups seized control of the area.

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