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      Austria to Begin Withdrawing Golan Peacekeepers on Wednesday

      Austria will begin withdrawing its 377 peacekeepers from the Golan Heights on Wednesday, says official.
      By Elad Benari
      First Publish: 6/11/2013, 3:42 AM

      View from the Golan
      View from the Golan
      Flash 90

      Austria will begin withdrawing its 377 UN peacekeepers from the Golan Heights on Wednesday, an unnamed official with the Austrian Defense Ministry said on Monday.

      The official said that the first contingent to return home will be support staff, meaning the observation posts normally staffed by Austrian troops will continue to be manned for now. He did not say how many peacekeepers would be withdrawn Wednesday.

      On Thursday, Austria said it was pulling its United Nations peacekeeping force from the Golan Heights, hours 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 that his country does not rule out returning its UN peacekeepers to the Golan Heights if their mandate is improved.

      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.

      Since last November, the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has had its peacekeepers seized by armed groups, its observation posts attacked and looted, and its freedom of movement curtailed.