Austria Not Ruling Out Sending Peacekeepers Back to Golan

Austria's Foreign Minister says his country does not rule out returning its UN peacekeepers to the Golan Heights.

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Elad Benari,

Golan Heights
Golan Heights
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Austria does not rule out returning its UN peacekeepers to the Golan Heights if their mandate is improved, the country’s foreign minister told a local newspaper on Sunday.

On Thursday, Austria said it was pulling its United Nations peacekeeping force from the Golan Heights. Austria accounts for about 380 of the 1,000-strong UN force monitoring the Israel-Syria ceasefire line in the Golan Heights.

Austria’s decision to withdraw its troops from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has been monitoring the ceasefire line since 1974, came after Syrian rebels briefly seized the only crossing along the Israel-Syria ceasefire line on the Golan, before regime forces recaptured it using tanks.

The country’s Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger told the Oesterreich newspaper on Sunday, "Something in the mandate will have to change. Regardless of who follows us, they should have it better than we did ... A return to the Golan isn't ruled out, if the conditions change."

Austria's defense minister said its contingent can remain in place for four weeks to ensure an orderly handover, and Spindelegger told Oesterreich this period could be extended if needed.

"If it takes six weeks, fine. But if no one is found, I don't see why we shouldn't leave earlier," he said.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was ready to bolster the peacekeeping force, offer to send Russian troops to the Golan to replace the Austrians.

However, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky later said that Russia was banned from taking part in the force because it is one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

"We appreciate the consideration that Russia has given to provide troops on the Golan. However, the disengagement agreement and its protocol between Syria and Israel does not allow for the participation of permanent members of the security council in UNDOF," Nesirky told reporters.