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Monday 22 September 2014

Coveney set to review Irish troops in warzone

Published 29/08/2014 | 02:30

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Simon Coveney TD
Simon Coveney TD
A member of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) rides atop an armoured vehicle near the Quneitra border crossing on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights

The future deployment of Irish peacekeeping troops in the conflict-torn buffer zone on the Golan Heights is under review by the Government.

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However, Defence Minister Simon Coveney has made it clear that no decision has been taken to withdraw the 130 troops from the zone straddling the Syrian-Israeli border.

All members of the 130-strong Irish contingent are safe despite running clashes between forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar Assad and rebel forces, including members of the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qa'ida affiliate in Syria.

The commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), Major General Iqbal Singh Singha has deployed a group of Irish troops, who are part of the force reserve company, to reinforce other UN posts in the zone.

This decision was taken in response to the fighting in the area. But the Irish troops did not come in contact with the warring factions and are in posts away from the firing.

Bunkers

The three Irish soldiers, who had been in groundhog - taking cover in heavily protected bunkers - for around 18 hours on Thursday are now moving freely in their temporary location but are restricted from rejoining the rest of their comrades, around 15 km away, at Camp Faouar.

The three were on patrol in the buffer zone when the hostilities erupted and sought cover in the nearest US post, Camp Zouani, a large logistics base, on the Israeli side of the border.

They stayed in the bunkers at Zouani until the fighting moved away from the area and last night were awaiting an opportunity to return to Camp Faouar.

Meanwhile, Undof commanders are attempting to negotiate the safe release of 43 Fijian peacekeepers, who were kidnapped by rebel forces after they were disarmed when the rebels overrun their post while they were in groundhog.

An UN spokesman said last night they were making every effort to secure their release and restore the full freedom of movement of the force throughout its area of operation.

Undof personnel had been previously detained by rebel fighters in March and May of last year and were released unharmed.

The rebels have taken control of a number of Undof observer posts and have also seized their vehicles but the peacekeepers were not hurt.

More than 80 peacekeepers are being restricted in their positions in the area around al-Ruwayhina and Burayqa while mortars landed near Undof positions but there were no casualties.

Senior military officers here advised the Government that the troops were equipped with the most modern and effective equipment to fulfil the mandate of maintaining peace on the border and provide the required protection for the mission.

However, the outbreak of hostilities between factions within Syria has now made their task more complex. A new contingent of peacekeepers, currently in training at the Glen of Imaal in west Wicklow, is due to be deployed there next month for a six month mission.

Irish Independent

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