UN’s Ban warns of renewed Syria-Israel conflict

Netanyahu addresses fear of Syria civil war spillover, 'We reserve the right to act if our national security is threatened.'

June 13, 2013 01:29
2 minute read.
UNDOF peacekeepers in the Golan Heights

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 Wednesday.

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.

He 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 mission.

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 war.

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.

Last 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.

Japan and Croatia have already withdrawn troops from UNDOF due to the violence.

About 170 Fijian troops are due to deploy later this month to replace the Croatian troops, the United Nations has said.

A senior 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.

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