Austria says peacekeepers to stay in Golan for now

Vienna warned it would pull 380 troops from UN buffer zone if EU arms Syria rebels after attempts to renew arms ban fails.

May 28, 2013 13:57
1 minute read.
Peacekeeping troops with UNDOF

UN peacekeeping troops Syria-Israel 150. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)


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Austria retracted a threat to pull 380 peacekeepers from the UN buffer zone between Syria and Israel, saying on Tuesday that only Britain and France - not the whole European Union - were ready to arm Syrian rebels.

Vienna had led efforts to extend an EU arms embargo on Syria, arguing that sending more weapons to the region would only fan the fighting, dash hopes for a peace deal and make Austrian peacekeeping troops potential targets for retribution.

Attempts to renew the arms ban on Syria failed on Monday, leaving Britain and France free to supply weapons to rebels fighting President Bashar Assad from August.

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said it had been crucial to avoid an EU policy U-turn that for the first time would allow arms shipments to one side in a conflict.

"There is no EU authorization for arms deliveries, and this is absolutely decisive. No one can say that we as Europeans wanted the opposition to get arms deliveries from member states," he told reporters after a cabinet meeting, noting any countries that sent arms would do so voluntarily.

This relieved pressure on Vienna to withdraw its soldiers from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where they make up the bulk of a UN mission monitoring an Israeli-Syrian ceasefire.

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Their exit after four decades keeping the peace since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war would leave a huge hole in the already troubled 1,000-strong United Nations force separating the armies of two countries still formally at war.

"We don't have the urgent situation of having to pull out tomorrow," Spindelegger said, adding that Austria would continue to review security conditions with the United Nations.

He said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "is completely on our side and says we don't need more weapons in Syria".

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