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UNDOF Patrols in Occupied Golan Heights (UN)
UNDOF Patrols in Occupied Golan Heights (UN)

Austria pullout its` UNDOF unit from Occupied Golan Heights

(DP-News - Omar alShaar )

Occupied Golan Heights- Austrian troops in the UN monitoring force on the occupied Golan Heights began withdrawing on Wednesday, days after Vienna decided to quit the mission over security concerns.



Austrian troops, who form a key unit in the United Nations observer mission set up on the Golan Heights in 1974, have begun pulling out. Vienna said spillover from Syria's civil war last week left its troops unprotected.



A group of around 70 soldiers entered the Israeli side of the strategic plateau through the Quneitra crossing, the only direct passage between Israel and Syria, an AFP correspondent said earlier on Wednesday.





They briefly entered a UN base on the Israeli side of the line, according to the news agency AFP. Shortly afterwards, they set out for Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv in a convoy of five coaches accompanied by six smaller vehicles, the report added.



"The Department of Peacekeeping Operations is in continuing discussions with the government of Austria about the timetable for withdrawing the remaining 310 troops in the observer force to allow for a smooth transition with replacements," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York.



Nesirky said talks continued with other countries about possible replacements for the Austrian troops. He said about 170 Fijian troops would deploy later this month to replace Croatian troops, who have already withdrawn from UNDOF.

Austria has said its phased pullout will take up to four weeks. Austria, which has demanded a changed UN mandate for an increasingly tense Golan Heights, began withdrawing its lightly-armed 377 peacekeepers on Wednesday. Japan and Croatia also withdrew troops in recent months.



Austrian withdrawing UNDOF will leave the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) with just 341 Philippine troops and 193 Indian troops - and the UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous scrambling to find fresh troops.



Russia has offered to replace Austria in the Golan Heights, which were captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, but the United Nations turned down the offer because the agreement with Israel and Syria precludes permanent members of the U.N. Security Council from taking part.



A year ago UNDOF had more than 1,100 troops. But Japan and Croatia have pulled out their men in recent months as battles between Syrian troops and the rebels spilled into the ceasefire zone.



UNDOF monitors an "area of separation" between Syrian and Israeli forces. It is a narrow strip of land running 72 kilometers (45 miles) from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan. UN diplomats say, until recently, the force had helped keep the area relatively stable.



Chaos in Syria – combined with the growing presence of Islamic extremists among the factions of opposition fighters – could lead to instability in the Middle East.

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