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UN rebuffs Russian Golan offer

June 8, 2013

The UN has declined a Russian offer to bolster the understaffed peacekeeping force in the cease-fire zone between Israel and Syria. Austria has said it would be withdrawing its troops from the Golan Heights.

A UN peacekeeper (top L) uses his binoculars on an observation tower in the largely abandoned city of Quneitra, in the demilitarized United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) zone, in the Golan Heights on March 8, 2013. The Philippines said on March 8 that rebels who are holding 21 Filipino peacekeepers hostage in the Golan Heights are insisting Syrian troops leave the area before releasing their captives. AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrien Golanhöhen Entführung UN-SoldatenImage: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said on Friday that permanent Security Council members were barred from deploying peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, under the terms of the 1974 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Syria.

The United Nations Disengagement Force (UNDOF) monitors the buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

"We appreciate the consideration that the Russian Federation has given to provide troops to the Golan," Nesirky said. "However, the Disengagement Agreement and its protocol, which is between Syria and Israel, do not allow for the participation of permanent members of the Security Council in UNDOF."

On Thursday, Austria said it would withdraw its 380 troops from the 1,000-strong peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights. The decision came after fighting between Syrian rebels and government troops in the cease-fire zone forced the Austrian peacekeepers into their bunkers.

"I think we are in a serious situation and we need to work together to try and protect the mission from collapse," said Britain's UN ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant.

Russia offers to 'rescue' UNDOF

Japan and Croatia have already withdrawn their troops from the peacekeeping force as a consequence of the Syrian civil war. The Philippines and India will be the only troop contributors left in the Golan once Austria withdraws. Manila has 341 troops stationed in the Golan, while New Delhi has 193 soldiers deployed there.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that the terms of the cease-fire agreement should be changed to allow Security Council members to participate in the peacekeeping force.

"The document was signed 39 years ago at the height of [the] Cold War and the whole context of the [Arab-Israeli] war in 1973," Churkin said. "Now the context is completely different and UNDOF seems to be in dire straits. So we are offering to essentially rescue UNDOF."

UN appeals for Syria aid

In a report published on Friday, the UN said it needed $5.2 billion (3.92 billion euros) per year to meet the humanitarian needs stemming from Syria's civil war.

"The figure for the new appeal is both an expression of the alarm about the situation facing Syrians and an absence of a political solution," UN refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards said.

The report projected that the number of refugees fleeing Syria's violence would jump from 1.6 million to 3.45 million by the end of 2013. According to Edwards, Some 10 million people inside Syria - nearly half of the country's pre-war population - will be in need of aid.

"Our support is a moral imperative, a matter of survival for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and existential for the neighboring countries," UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres said.

The UN estimates that around 94,000 people have died in Syria's civil war.

slk/lw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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