Russia is ready to replace peacekeepers from Austria in the Golan Heights, President Vladimir Putin said on Friday, after Vienna said it would recall its troops from a UN monitoring force due to worsening fighting in Syria.
Austria, whose peacekeepers account for about 380 of the 1,000-strong UN force observing a four-decade-old ceasefire between Syria and Israel, said it would pull out after intense clashes between Syrian government forces and rebels on the border.
- Philippines considering Golan pullout
- UN seeks 'replacement troops' to Austrian peacekeepers in Golan
- Syrian tanks in Golan; Austria withdraws peacekeeping forces
"Given the complicated situation in the Golan Heights, we could replace the leaving Austrian contingent in this region on the border between Israeli troops and the Syrian army," Putin said at a televised meeting with Russian military officers.
Smoke over Quneitra combat (Photo: Reuters)
Russia, a long-time ally and arms supplier to Syrian President Bashar Assad, has been trying along with Western powers to bring the warring sides in Syria together into talks on a solution to the more than two-year-old conflict.
The UN Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss the Austrian withdrawal after anti-Assad rebels briefly seized the crossing between Israel and Syria, sending UN staff scurrying to bunkers before Syrian soldiers managed to push them back.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the United Nations is urgently looking for troops to replace Austrians and warned that any military activity in the zone separating Israeli and Syrian forces could jeopardize the long-held cease-fire.
The UN Security Council, in a statement, strongly condemned the intense fighting in the area of separation, urged respect for the 1974 disengagement agreement and called on all parties to allow the peacekeepers to operate freely.
The Philippines have also said they are considering withdrawing their peacekeeping forces from the Golan Heights. The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended to their president last month that they take this action. This was reported on the Alarabiya network.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese army warned on Friday that a plot was afoot to embroil the country in the 26-month conflict in neighboring Syria, as deadly clashes between Damascus supporters and opponents inside Lebanon multiply.
“The army command... calls on citizens to be wary of plots aimed at taking Lebanon backwards and dragging it into an absurd war,” a statement said, adding that it would give an “armed response to any armed action.”
Lebanon is especially concerned of violence spreading, since hundreds of its citizens who are active Hezbollah members are currently fighting alongside Assad's troops.
Speaking on the same issue, the leader of Syria's main opposition group, George Sabra, has warned that the involvement of Hezbollah is transforming the war in Syria into a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, and says peace negotiations are not possible as long as Hezbollah and Iran are fighting in support of Assad's regime.
Sabra, acting head of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, told the Associated Press Friday that Syria was under occupation from foreign troops and urged the international community to act now or risk the Syrian conflict spreading to other parts of the Middle East.
Reuters, AP, AFP contributed to this report
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop