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Austria Withdraws Peacekeeping Force from Golan Heights

Austria announced that it is pulling its United Nations peacekeeping force from the Golan Heights, following increased violence.
By Rina Tzvi
First Publish: 6/6/2013, 5:50 PM

Smoke rises from Israel-Syria border
Smoke rises from Israel-Syria border
Reuters

Austria is pulling its United Nations peacekeeping force from the Golan Heights, the government said in a statement released Thursday.

Austria accounts for about 380 of the 1,000-strong UN force monitoring the Israel-Syria ceasefire line in the Golan Heights.

“Freedom of movement in the area de facto no longer exists. The uncontrolled and immediate danger to Austrian soldiers has risen to an unacceptable level," the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, and his deputy, Michael Spindelegger, said in a joint statement.

The announcement came hours after Syrian rebels seized the Syrian-controlled section of the Quneitra crossing early on Thursay.

A Filipino peacekeeper was also wounded during the fighting, a Philippine military spokesman said.

The soldier suffered a leg injury from an artillery or mortar shell that landed at Camp Ziouani, a logistics base for the UN Disengagement Observer Force, said Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala.

"This morning's developments show that a further delay (in pulling out soldiers) is no longer justifiable," the Austrian statement said.

The head of United Nations peacekeeping confirmed earlier Thursday that shots had been fired in "incidents" on the Israel-Syria ceasefire line in the Golan heights, where Israeli radio reported a crossing point falling into the hands of Syrian rebels. Syrian government forces retook the position.

"We are following the situation in the Golan extremely closely, it is very sensitive," the head of UN peacekeeping operations Herve Ladsous told reporters in Paris, according to the AFP news agency.

"We have adjusted the stance of the UN force (in Golan) in real time, taking particular account of the security of our staff."

Ladsous added that "there were shots," but would not confirm the report that the Syrian rebels had taken control of the crossing point. "It is in the interest of the international community that the UN force is able to continue its work in favor of regional stability."