Who will replace the Austrian peacekeepers in the Golan? The force's spokesperson said Thursday that the Austrian decision to withdraw its forces from the area significantly harms UNDOF's "operational capacity".
UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-moon also commented on the incident, expressing regret for Vienna's decision, but praising the Austrian peacekeepers and other forces still active in the area.
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“Austria has been a backbone of the mission and their withdrawal will affect the mission’s operational capacity,” UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York.
“We are in discussions with them about the timing of the withdrawal," he said, noting that there are also discussions underway "with other troop-contributing countries to provide replacement troops.”
IDF forces eye Syrian Golan clashes (Photo: Haggai Aharon)
Ban called on "all parties to respect UNDOF’s freedom of movement and safety and security,” a statement released by his office said.
He condemned the attack that injured two UNDOF peacekeepers Thursday. The peacekeepers were reported to be in stable condition after sustaining minor injuries as a result of a mortar shell landing in their outpost.
IDF tanks patrol Golan (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
Austria is one of the three nation states contributing forces to the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), charged with monitoring the 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war. They are joined by Indian and Filipino soldiers.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it regretted Austria's decision and hoped that it would not lead to "further escalation in the region." It also said it expected the UN to uphold its commitment.
(Photo: Hagai Aharon)
Israel and Syria agreed to creation of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) after Syria launched military action in 1973 in a failed effort to retake the Golan, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War .
In Vienna, Austrian leaders said the fighting made it necessary to withdraw their troops.
Defense Minister Gerhard Klug said he expected the withdrawal to be done within two to four weeks, but it is possible to complete it "within a few hours" if new violence threatened the soldiers' security.
"For the first time, it was not possible for the Syrian government to guarantee proper support of the UN," he said.
Earlier Thursday, dozens of Syrians arrived at the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria requested entry into Israel.
The group was received by the IDF, which examined them at the crossing. However, after the IDF decided the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing was no longer dangerous, it decided to send the group back to their war-torn country.
AP contributed to this report
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