Some 170 Fijian troops will replace Austria’s United Nations peacekeepers in the Golan Heights that separate Israel from Syria later this month.
Austria initially reconsidered its deployment to the Golan last month when the European Union failed to extend its arms embargo on Syria. France and the United Kingdom were among member states calling for less stringent sanctions to enable them to provide weapons to rebels battling the regime of President Bashar Assad there. The Alpine country’s foreign minister Michael Spindelegger expressed concern that it would not longer be seen as a “neutral party” on the Israeli-Syrian frontier as a consequence of the decision.
Last week, two Austrian troops were wounded when Syrian opposition fighters captured a border post before they were driven out by government forces.
Austria’s soldiers comprised the bulk of the international monitoring mission in the Golan buffer zone that has been deployed since 1974. It also has peacekeepers in Bosnia, Lebanon and Kosovo.
Russia, seen as an ally of Assad’s, had offered to replace Austria in the Golan Heights. The United Nations turned down the offer because the agreement with Israel and Syria precludes permanent members of the Security Council from taking part.
Since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, Israel has at least twice carried out airstrikes into the country to prevent advanced weaponry from reaching Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that supports the regime in Damascus and is also backed by its ally Iran.