The UN has relocated troops from its peacekeeping mission in the embattled Golan Heights to Israeli-controlled territory. The move comes as a precautionary measure after recent clashes between UN soldiers and insurgents.
On Monday, several hundred United Nations peacekeepers stationed in the Golan Heights left the no-firing buffer zone between Israel and Syria. According to reports, a long convoy of troops moved westward into Israeli-controlled territory, thereby distancing itself from areas in which Syrian government forces and insurgents have been fighting each other for weeks.
A United Nations spokesman confirmed the withdrawal was underway.
It did not appear that every single UN post in the area had been vacated, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
"But obviously the situation has deteriorated across a wide span of the territory so we've had to leave from a lot of places," Haq added.
A spokesperson for the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), Stephane Dujarric, also confirmed that "armed groups have made advances in the area of the UNDOF positions" and that they posed "a direct threat to [the peacekeepers'] safety and security."
Troop contributors have become anxious about sending more personnel to the area in recent weeks as violence from the war in neighboring Syria has spilled over into Golan.
In recent weeks, dozens of UN soldiers had been temporarily abducted by insurgents, or had been involved in fire exchanges with them. Several countries have since opted to withdraw their soldiers.
As a countermove, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous had previously attempted to make the mandate more robust by providing the troops with various pieces of armored equipment.
The UN did not indicate that a change of mandate, let alone a shutdown of their Golan Heights peacekeeping mission was underway.
UN monitors have been helping to enforce a stable truce between Israel and Syria for 40 years. The mission known as UNDOF currently consists of over 1,200 soldiers from the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland, India, Nepal, Fiji and the Philippines.
ws/kms (Reuters, AP, AFP)