Sunday 17 December 2017

Irish troops are forced to take cover in battle

Members of the 55th Infantry Group pictured during training exercises in preparation for the deployment to the Golan Heights. Photo: Mark Condren
Members of the 55th Infantry Group pictured during training exercises in preparation for the deployment to the Golan Heights. Photo: Mark Condren
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

Irish peacekeeping troops on the Golan Heights dividing Syria and Israel were forced to take cover in bunkers several times after their camp came under fire.

Sustained fighting between rival anti-government factions outside Camp Ziouani spilled over into the peacekeepers' compound as bursts of machine gun fire landed inside.

Soldiers dived for cover in a protective operation known as groundhog and had to stay inside bunkers for several hours until the shooting subsided.

Camp Ziouani is mission headquarters for the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force (UNDOF) on the Golan and part of it is used to house the 136 troops from the Defence Forces.

The incidents involving groundhog took place over a 10-day period between June 23 and July 2 as fighting outside the compound between the local groups intensified into a lengthy firefight involving mortars and small arms.

Nobody was injured by the rounds, which hit the camp, although the firing was described as "very close".

Fighting between the groups erupts regularly between the factions in an area stretching from 1km to 3km from the camp, in what is meant to be a demilitarised zone.

The Irish are part of a UN force, which was sent to the region to monitor a ceasefire agreement between Syria and Israel, and they act as the force reserve component.

The Irish have the best armoured protection in the mission as they supply a quick reaction force (QRF), which goes out on patrol from the camp and can be called in to assist UN personnel in danger elsewhere. The QRF, a 30-strong platoon of troops, must be ready at 15 minutes' notice to respond to an incident, while the Irish also supply a specialist search team of engineers, who can be deployed to clear an area.

The groups involved in the latest fighting were not identified but were thought to be affiliates of the al-Nusra Front and the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, which is said to be linked to Isil.

Irish Independent

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