Austria Still Open To Sending Peacekeepers Back To Golan

by
Reuters
Austria does not rule out returning its U.N. peacekeepers to the Golan Heights if their mandate is improved, its foreign minister told Sunday's newspaper Oesterreich.

Smoke rises after an explosion in the Syrian village of Bariqa close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights

Austria does not rule out returning its U.N. peacekeepers to the Golan Heights if their mandate is improved, its foreign minister told Sunday's newspaper Oesterreich.

The Alpine republic, whose peacekeepers account for 380 of the 1,000 members of a U.N. force monitoring a 40-year-old ceasefire between Syria and Israel, said on Thursday it would pull them out after battles between Syrian troops and rebels.

Asked whether the peacekeepers should be better armed, Michael Spindelegger told the paper: "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."

In addition to the increased fighting in the force's zone of operation, there have been several recent incidents in which Syrian rebel forces have detained U.N. monitors.

Austria's defence minister has said its contingent can remain in place for four weeks to ensure an orderly handover.

Spindelegger told Oesterreich this period could be extended a little: "If it takes six weeks, fine. But if no one is found, I don't see why we shouldn't leave earlier."

Russia has offered to replace Austria in the Golan Heights but the United Nations has said it cannot accept the offer because an agreement between Syria and Israel bars permanent Security Council members from the mission.

The United Nations is asking the remaining countries in the force, the Philippines and India, if they could increase their deployments, and also casting around for other contributors.