[QODLink]
Middle East

Austria begins withdrawal from Golan Heights

Deteriorating security forces Vienna to remove troops from occupied area as UN scrambles to find replacements.

Last Modified: 12 Jun 2013 09:50
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
There are about 1,000 UN soldiers in the Golan Heights [AP]

Austria began pulling out its UN peacekeepers from the Golan Heights days after Vienna decided to quit the mission over deteriorating security concerns.

An AFP photographer said on Wednesday 20 soldiers in jeeps accompanied by tanks entered the Israeli side of the Quineitra Crossing – the only direct passage between Israel and Syria.

Another 50 soldiers out of the 378-strong force were to pull out throughout the day, according to sources on the ground. The Austrian defence ministry said the full withdrawal would be completed by June 24.

Vienna’s decision on Tuesday came after Syrian opposition rebels briefly seized the Quneitra crossing late last week, in an incident in which two UN troops were injured.

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.

Replacements needed

On Tuesday, a senior Israeli official said dozens of Austrian soldiers had already left the mission’s headquarters. Israeli public radio said they were administrative staff.

"But the majority of soldiers will remain in place until the UN has found a country that can send troops to replace the Austrian ones," said an Israeli official, who asked not to be named.

The UN is trying to persuade Austria to slow down its withdrawal.

The country has played an important role as part of the UN force monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and Israel since 1974.

Japan and Croatia have also withdrawn their forces in recent months, as battles between Syrian government and opposition forces spill into the ceasefire zone.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

297

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
Muslim volunteers face questioning and threat of arrest, while aid has been disrupted or blocked, charities say.
Six months on, outrage and sorrow over the mass schoolgirl abduction has disappeared - except for families in Nigeria.
ISIL combatants seeking an 'exit strategy' from Mideast conflict need positive reinforcement back home, analysts say.
European nation hit by a wave of Islamophobia as many young fighters join ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
Featured
Lacking cohesive local ground forces to attack in tandem, coalition air strikes will have limited effect, experts say.
Hindu right-wing groups run campaign against what they say is Muslim conspiracy to convert Hindu girls into Islam.
Six months on, outrage and sorrow over the mass schoolgirl abduction has disappeared - except for families in Nigeria.
Muslim caretakers maintain three synagogues in eastern Indian city, which was once home to a thriving Jewish community.
Amid fresh ISIL gains, officials in Anbar province have urged the Iraqi government to request foreign ground troops.