Austria starts withdrawal from Golan Heights

Pull-out of some of Austria's 378 UN peacekeepers begins as Syrian conflict spreads to Israeli-occupied area.

    Austria has begun withdrawing some of its 378 UN peacekeepers from the demilitarised zone on the ceasefire line with Syria and the Israel-occupied Golan Heights.

    Tuesday’s decision comes after opposition rebels briefly seized the Quneitra crossing late last week in an incident that injured two of the peacekeepers.

    The crossing lies in the demilitarised zone on the Israel-Syria armistice line and is monitored by about 1,000 UN peacekeepers, including the Austrians.

    Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton in the Golan Heights witnessed armoured personnel-carriers transporting the Austrians to the main UN base on the Israeli side of the ceasefire line.

    She said that the troops were from the logistics unit, and not from the main body of the peacekeepers.

    “There isn’t a large number of them but it’s a significant that they’ve already started to come out,” Turton said, adding that Austria was expected to remove the rest of its force later this month.

    Japan and Croatia have also withdrawn their troops in recent months, as battles between the Syrian government and opposition forces spread into the ceasefire zone.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that troops from his country could replace the Austrians, but under the terms of the 1974 accord that created the force, members of the UN Security Council are not allowed to take part.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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