UN withdraws Golan observers from Position 86

UN relocates peacekeepers after rebels kidnap members of force, but assures that they will maintain presence along Syrian border.

UN peacekeepers blue helmets (photo credit: Ali Hashisho / Reuters)
UN peacekeepers blue helmets
(photo credit: Ali Hashisho / Reuters)
The United Nations has withdrawn peacekeepers from one of its stations along the Golan Heights, after rebel forces took four Philippine members of its force on Tuesday at that location, on the Syrian side of the border.
As of press time, Syrian rebel forces were still holding the four members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force.
The remaining peacekeepers from the station, Position 86, were relocated, according to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky, who spoke with reporters about the matter on Wednesday.
The UN is doing its best to keep the rest of its peacekeepers along the Syrian border in the Golan Heights, he told reporters. Another spokesperson assured The Jerusalem Post that the forces were still there.
“UNDOF continues to do its utmost to ensure the implementation of its mandate while mitigating risk to its personnel,” Nesirky said.
“Everybody fully understands that they are operating in an extremely dangerous and unusual environment. They have a mandate that stretches back to the 1970s, and they have been carrying out that mandate faithfully since that time.”
The peacekeepers “work in extremely difficult circumstances,” he noted.
“Of course, if the security situation is such that they need to be relocated, they will be relocated. And then, when the situation allows, they will return,” he said.
He added that “the Force is constantly reviewing and adjusting its security arrangements to address the dynamic and rapidly evolving situation in its area of operations.”
The withdrawal from Position 86 comes at a time when Israel is concerned about the future of the mission. In the last year, three of the six nations that participate in the mission – Croatia, Japan and Canada – withdrew their forces, leaving only some 1,000 peacekeepers along the border.
Austria has threatened that it could similarly pull its peacekeepers if the EU does not renew its arms embargo against Syria. It is worried that the neutrality of its peacekeepers would be compromised if the embargo were lifted and EU countries sent arms to rebel forces.
There is some concern that if Austria’s were to pull its 377 peacekeepers, UNDOF would not have enough personnel on the border to be effective.
Separately UNDOF’s mandate, which gets renewed every six months, will be up for renewal at the end of June. Before that renewal, UN Secretary-General Ban- Ki Moon is scheduled to complete a report on the UNDOF forces in the Golan Heights.