Monday 22 December 2014

Defence Minister: Irish troops facing 'unacceptable' levels of risk in Golan Heights

Eoghan McNeill

Published 01/09/2014 | 10:37

Defence Minister: Irish troops facing 'unacceptable' levels of risk in Golan Heights (Inset: Defence Minister Simon Coveney)

Defence Minister Simon Coveney has said Irish troops are facing “unacceptable” levels of risk on a UN mission along the Syrian-Israeli border – an area that has been dragged into a civil war.

“I’ve made it very clear that I’m not going to continue to commit Irish troops to this mission unless there’s a fundamental review of how it’s going to operate, because clearly this is no longer a demilitarised zone," he said.

“We need to get assurances from the UN and indeed where possible from Israel and Syria that we can operate to the mandate of this mission."

Speaking on RTE's Radio One, Minister Coveney said there are a number of ongoing reviews into the deployment of Irish troops in the Golan Heights region.

“One review is already under way on the ground in the Golan Heights by the commanding officer there. Our lead officer from Ireland is very much involved in that," he said.

“Everyone knows that when you send peacekeepers to a part of the world like the Middle East, there is always risk.

“Certainly what has happened over the last number of days is not an acceptable level of risk from my perspective, and I suspect the government's perspective too,” he said.

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Coveney said the government will conduct a review of the mission before a new rotation of Irish troops is due to be sent to the region next month:

“I’m not going to rush a decision here. If the Irish decide to pull out of this mission, in my view the mission will collapse, so I’m not going to make that decision lightly.

“There are unacceptable levels of risk attached to missions like this,” he said.

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While Irish troops were involved in the rescue of 35 Filipino soldiers held-captive by Syrian rebels on Friday, 43 Fijian soldiers are currently being held by rebels in the Golan heights region.

All Irish troops in the region are safe and accounted for, the Irish Defence Forces report.

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