UN peacekeepers return to Syrian side of the Golan

127 UN peacekeepers return to Syrian-held side of the Golan Heights, two years after fleeing clashes with Al-Qaeda-linked rebels.

Elad Benari ,

UNDOF peacekeepers
UNDOF peacekeepers

A first group of 127 UN peacekeepers on Monday returned to a camp on the Syrian-held side of the Golan Heights, two years after withdrawing amid clashes with Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels.

UN spokesman Farhan Haq said more troops from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) would return to camp Faouar this week and that both governments in Israel and Syria supported the move.

"The total number of troops that deployed to Camp Faouar this morning is 127 and more are expected to join in a week," said Haq, according to the AFP news agency.

"For now... they will perform as many of the mandated tasks as they can, security conditions permitting," he added.

UNDOF monitors a 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights.

Hundreds of UN troops withdrew from the Syrian side of the Golan to the Israeli side in September 2014, after Al-Qaeda-linked rebels kidnapped dozens of peacekeepers.

In late August of 2014, rebels on the Syrian side including Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front kidnapped more than 40 Fijian UNDOF troops and released them unharmed two weeks later.

The fighters also clashed with 75 Filipino members of the force, who eventually fled a nearby outpost in a worrying sign of spillover from Syria's war and were recalled back to their home country.

The rebel forces at the time seized UN weapons, equipment and uniforms in a campaign that saw the Syrian Golan Heights fall completely into their hands.

Some 510 square kilometers of the Golan remain on the Syrian side of the ceasefire line, with UNDOF overseeing a buffer zone stretching some 70 kilometers from Lebanon in the north to Jordan in the south.

"The situation in the area is dramatically different from what it was prior to 2014 and the mission's concept of operations has been adjusted accordingly," Haq said Monday.

"But we are going to incrementally return back."

The returning troops are from Fiji and Nepal. In the coming days, a total of 150 peacekeepers will be positioned once again at Camp Faouar, UN officials said.