UN sees risk of escalation in Syria-Israel tensions

US and Russian-drafted UN Security Council resolution warns tensions between Israel, Syria could escalate in Golan.

UNDOF soldiers in Golan overlooking Syria 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
UNDOF soldiers in Golan overlooking Syria 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
A US- and Russian-drafted UN Security Council resolution to extend a peacekeeping mission in the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel warns that tensions between the neighbors could escalate as Syria’s civil war spills into the area.
The draft resolution, which is due to be adopted by the 15-member council on Wednesday, expresses concern about the presence of the Syrian army, armed opposition groups and unauthorized military equipment in the so-called “area of separation.”
Syrian troops are not allowed in the area of separation between Israel and Syria under a 1973 cease-fire formalized in 1974 and supervised by the UN Disengagement Observer Force. The draft text proposes extending UNDOF’s mandate for six months, something that has been done ever since the force was established in 1974.
Syria’s 20-month civil war recently began to spill over into the zone, which had been largely quiet since the 1973 cease-fire. Stray shells and bullets have landed on the Israeli-controlled side and Israeli troops have fired shells into Syria in response.
Last month a convoy of Austrian UN peacekeepers came under fire near the Damascus airport. The draft Security Council resolution condemns the incident in which it says five peacekeepers were injured. Two of the peacekeepers were flown to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa for treatment.
“Recent incidents across the cease-fire line have shown the potential for escalation of tensions between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic, and jeopardize the cease-fire between the two countries,” says the draft obtained by Reuters on Monday.
Israeli officials agreed with this assessment, with one source saying Jerusalem is concerned about the possible “fragmentation” of Syria, and about who will then move into the area near the border.
The officials said Israel was keen on UNDOF remaining in place, especially now, to ensure the situation along the border does not get out of control and that whoever eventually takes control of the frontier will act responsibly.
UNDOF is made up of some 1,035 troops from five countries: Austria, Croatia, India, Japan and the Philippines.
Israeli officials say the fighting in Syria is a major concern to the countries who make up the UN force, and that Japan has recently expressed its interest in withdrawing its contingent.
The draft resolution that will be brought to the Security Council agrees with UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon’s “finding that the military operations carried out by the Syrian Arab Armed Forces have affected adversely the efforts of UNDOF to effectively carry out the mandated tasks.”
More than 40,000 people have been killed in Syria since a government crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protests in March 2011 grew into a civil war.
The Security Council has been unsuccessful in taking any meaningful action to end the war. Veto-holding powers Russia and China refuse to condemn Syria’s President Bashar Assad or support sanctions.