UN Golan troops to deploy armor on spillover fears

Syrian mortar lands near IDF base in Golan; UN peacekeeping chief says Syrian opposition may be training Salafists.

UNDOF soldiers in Golan overlooking Syria 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
UNDOF soldiers in Golan overlooking Syria 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
PARIS - United Nations forces based inside Syria to monitor a longtime ceasefire between Syria and Israel will bring in armor to reinforce their security because of a threat posed by an influx of Syrian rebels, the UN peacekeeping chief said.
The UN force deployed after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Syria failed to recapture the Golan Heights taken by Israel seven years before and later annexed by the Jewish state.
Shortly after announcing the move, the IDF confirmed that a shell fired from Syria landed in Israeli territory in the Golan. The mortar struck near an IDF base on the Israel-Syria border, causing no damage or injuries.
The IDF registered a complaint to the United Nations over the incident. An IDF source said that the mortar likely landed in Israel accidentally, a misfire from Syrian infighting.
Speaking in Paris, peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said a number of countries contributing to the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) had voiced concerns after two Austrian soldiers were shot on November 29 in an area of Damascus where government troops and rebels have been fighting.
"Certain countries are concerned," Ladsous told reporters on Wednesday. "We will reinforce security, most notably with armored vehicles and we plan to send more political advisers to analyze the situation on the ground."
Ladsous said that while there was no plan to reduce the force, the situation in the area had "abruptly" changed dynamics surrounding the 36-year mission as the rebellion against President Bashar Assad turns ever bloodier.
"The situation in Syria sparked a cascade of insecurity which has had consequences highlighted by the presence of armed groups belonging to the Syrian opposition in the disengagement zones ... There are people being trained that appear a lot like (hardline Muslim) Salafists," he said.
Stray shells and bullets from the internal Syrian conflict have landed on the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan ceasefire line in recent weeks and Israeli troops have fired artillery shells into Syria in response.
Ladsous said that UNDOF, which numbers 1,050 soldiers from Austria, the Philippines, India, Japan, Croatia and Canada, had no specific mandate to deal with the escalating violence.
About 800 of the peacekeepers patrol on the Syrian side of the 1973 Golan Heights ceasefire line.
Their mandate is to oversee a dagger-shaped 400 square km (155-square-mile) "area of separation" where Syrian military forces are not allowed, but where Syrian security, police, customs officers and hunters may carry firearms.