July 23, 2013

Ireland, Fiji and Nepal to send peacekeepers to UN Golan force

The UN has found a solution to the departure in June of 380 Austrian troops from the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights.
By Barak Ravid | Jul. 22, 2013 | 11:07 AM 

Austrian UN peacekeepers withdrawing from the Golan Heights
Austrian UN peacekeepers withdrawing from the Golan Heights carry their equipment as they cross border between Israel and Syria at Quneitra, June 12, 2013. Photo by AP
A solution has been found to the crisis faced by troops of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon obtained the agreement of Ireland, Fiji and Nepal to send hundreds of troops to reinforce UNDOF, following the departure in June of 380 Austrian troops who were stationed in the buffer zone between Israel and Syria.

At the UN secretary-general’s request, the Irish government agreed to send approximately 150 infantry troops to the Golan. The unit worked previously as a UN peacekeeping force in Mali. The troops are armed, trained and equipped with weapons and armored vehicles of a higher quality than the Austrian force. Last Thursday, a large majority in the Irish parliament approved dispatching the troops to the Golan.

A high-ranking Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem said that the UN secretary-general had also received Fiji’s agreement to send about 500 troops to the UNDOF force. Some 300 troops will be sent at first, and the remaining 200 will be sent some months later. In addition, the government of Nepal will send a unit of about 50 troops that now serves in the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon.

The UN secretary-general also convinced the government of the Philippines not to remove its 200 troops from the force. 300 UNDOF troops from India will also stay put, bringing the total number of troops to almost 1250. This is the target number that the UN's Ban stated in the latest report he submitted to the Security Council. This is an increase of about 300 troops over the total that made up the force until now.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor confirmed the details, saying that the process of restaffing UNDOF was being done with knowledge, coordination and complete transparency between the UN in New York and Israel.

A high-ranking Foreign Ministry official said Israel was pleased that a solution was found to the crisis caused by the departure of the Austrian troops. “The force is more important than ever, and there is no doubt that these countries are doing a good and important service for the peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights and throughout the world as well,” he said.

In early June, the Austrian government announced that it was removing its soldiers from the force in the Golan Heights because of the deterioration of the security situation in the region caused by unrest in Syria. Israeli officials feared at the time that India and the Philippines would follow the Austrians' lead, and remove their troops as well, leading to the collapse of the force that observes the separation of forces agreement between Israel and Syria.

In late June, the UNIFIL mandate was extended by six months, to the end of 2013. Anticipating the extension of the mandate, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon submitted a report to the Security Council stating that changes must be made in the makeup of the force and in its mandate. He wrote that he wished to increase the number of troops in the force from 900 to 1250, strengthen their capabilities and increase the quantity and quality of their weapons to enable them to defend themselves. The UN secretary-general noted that the escalation on the border between Israel and Syria endangered the 1974 separation of forces agreement between the two countries.

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