Video footage purportedly shows UN peacekeepers knowingly allow a jeepload of Syrian police officers to drive into a fatal ambush. The footage has been described by a UN spokesman as "disturbing."
Austria's defense ministry said on Saturday it had started investigating a 2012 incident involving its UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights. The blue helmets reportedly allowed a group of Syrian police officers drive into a fatal ambush in which nine were killed by an armed group.
A video reportedly made by the Austrians and published online by weekly newspaper Falter shows what the paper says are Syrian smugglers setting up an ambush behind rocks.
An hour later the Syrian police officers arrive in a jeep and the Austrian peacekeepers allow them to pass, according to Falter. The footage then shows the Syrians being shot at and killed.
The Austrian soldiers are clearly heard on the video discussing whether to warn the officers, but then letting them pass. They knew that they were letting the Syrian police into a trap, Falter said.
"Really you should tell them," one of the peacekeepers is heard to say in an Austrian dialect to a comrade. "It's about to start, you'll see," says another as the vehicle nears the ambush. As the Syrians drive towards the deadly ambush, another Austrian says: "Here we go."
Austrian defense ministry investigation
In a statement, the defense ministry said it was only made aware of the "dimension of the incident" by the images and video leaked to Falter. Spokesman Michael Bauer said the video looked authentic.
"As a first step all reports, orders, laws and regulations that could be relevant for the inquiry are being collected, examined and evaluated," spokesman Michael Bauer said on Twitter.
The shoot-out was reported at the time to the UN Security Council, according to a UN spokesman cited by the Salzburger Nachrichten on Saturday. The paper quoted an Austrian soldier who served as a UN peacekeeper in the Golan Heights as saying that the peacekeepers' actions were "100 percent correct according to our mandate." "The order is: don't get involved," Marcus H told the paper's online edition, reported the AFP news agency.
The identity of the blue helmets being investigated have not been released. The probe will also cover whether the incident contributed to the Golan withdrawal.
What happens next?
Defense Minister Mario Kunasek says "the incidents will have to be meticulously and completely cleared up." The Commission will investigate whether the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) Rules of Engagement have been breached, thereby implementing any criminal offense. The investigation is expected to be completed by the end of May.
Since 1974 the UNDOF has been monitoring the ceasefire between Israel and Syria along a narrow strip of land running 72 kilometers (45 miles) from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan.
kp/ rc (AP, AFP. dpa)