UNDOF peacekeepers in the Golan 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A spillover of Syria’s civil war violence into the Golan Heights jeopardizes its
decades old cease-fire with Israel, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said
Wednesday, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that his country would
defend itself if attacked.
“Israel is not a party to the internal
conflict in Syria. But Israel will defend itself if attacked, and we reserve the
right to act if our national security is threatened,” Netanyahu said on
He spoke in Warsaw during a joint press conference with Polish
Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Netanyahu added that both Israel and Poland
were concerned with the “terrible carnage” that is occurring in Syria.
spoke as the future of the UN peacekeepers on the Golan appears in doubt, as
Austria was scheduled on Wednesday to begin pulling its soldiers out of the
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that in light of the dangers
along Israel’s borders, including Syria, it was important to be prepared to
thwart any danger.
Ban asked the UN Security Council to increase the
number of peace-keepers on the border from the 900 soldiers that are there now
to its authorized strength of 1,250.
“The ongoing military activities in
the area of separation continue to have the potential to escalate tensions
between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic and to jeopardize the cease-fire
between the two countries,” Ban said.
The peacekeeping force, known as
UNDOF, monitors an area of separation between Syrian and Israeli forces, a
narrow strip of land running 70 km. from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to
the Yarmuk River frontier with Jordan. Israel and Syria are still technically at
The 15-member Security Council is due later this month to renew the
mandate of UNDOF for six months.
The peacekeeping mission has been caught
in the middle of fighting in the Golan Heights’ area of separation.
week two peacekeepers were wounded when Syrian rebels captured a border post but
were then driven out by government troops. Rebels have also detained
peacekeepers on several different occasions before releasing them.
and Croatia have already withdrawn troops from UNDOF due to the
About 170 Fijian troops are due to deploy later this month to
replace the Croatian troops, the United Nations has said.
Western diplomat said that Fiji had also offered to send additional troops and
that the Philippines, which already has some 340 troops in UNDOF, was
considering sending more troops after Ban lobbied Manila. India is also a part
of UNDOF with nearly 200 troops.
Russia has offered to replace Austria’s
troops, but the agreement with Israel and Syria precludes permanent members of
the UN Security Council from taking part.
A UN official said that
sufficient offers had already been made from other countries to fill the gap
left by Austria’s departure.
About 70 Austrian soldiers were due to
return home on Wednesday and the United Nations said it was continuing talks
with Vienna on a timetable for withdrawing its remaining troops. Austria plans
to bring all 380 peacekeepers home by the end of June, but diplomats said Ban
asked them to delay that by one month.