Sunday, April 14, 2013

Israel nervous that UNDOF will abandon Syria

Maariv reports:
Jerusalem is concerned that the Austrian troops of the UN force in Golan Heights, which are its largest contingent, will leave the area soon and will effectively cause the dissolution of power. In a situation like this there is a reasonable possibility that opposition Islamists will take over the Golan border positions, including the Syrian Hermon post.

In the coming weeks the arms embargo imposed by the EU on all sides in Syria should expire. It is believed that Britain and France will start to arm some rebel groups fighting Assad, but Austria has threatened in that case to consider pulling its soldiers....Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Sfindlgr, currently visiting Israel, expressed during his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his fears of possible arming the rebels, ...saying that arming the rebels would bring the government to seriously consider the evacuation of the Golan Austrian battalion.
The UN had hinted that this might happen over two weeks ago:
The United Nations peacekeepers in the Golan Heights have reduced their activities in response to the presence of armed groups from the Syrian conflict, the world body’s peacekeeping chief said today, calling for respect for the safety and security of UN personnel.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous told journalists in New York that the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has had to “adopt a posture which is somewhat more static” and take additional security measures, which include the use of more armoured vehicles.

“We have had to reduce somewhat the footprint of UNDOF in the Golan Heights in the area of operation,” Mr. Ladsous said after briefing the Security Council behind closed doors on actions taken since the seizure and safe release of 21 blue helmets earlier this month. In the days following, UNDOF vacated two positions which were particularly exposed to gunfire.

He thanked the countries contributing troops to the region and said he very much hopes that they will stay the course on this “very important mission.”

Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, which holds the presidency of the Council for this month, told reporters that the armed groups are being “provocative” in the area where the peacekeepers operate, but the blue helmets do not have the mandated authority from the Council to stop them.
(h/t Yoel)