Irish troops under attack in Syria but orders remain same
THE threat level confronting Irish peacekeepers on the Golan Heights in Syria has not been altered despite troops coming under attack from anti-government forces.
Military investigators now believe that a landmine was responsible for the blast, which damaged a tyre on the Mowag armoured personnel carrier transferring 36 Irish troops between two United Nations locations.
The troops also came under small arms fire from a group of rebels but nobody was hit.
One peacekeeper damaged his back when he struck the hatch of the Mowag while taking cover inside the vehicle.
But he was not seriously injured.
The Irish returned fire with one round from a .5 machinegun, mounted on a Mowag, which was directed towards the rebels as a warning blast.
The peacekeeping troops then withdrew from the scene.
The incident took place on Thursday morning at the village of Ruihinah, near an UN position in the southern sector of the area controlled by the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof).
Despite the attack, military officers said last night that the threat level remained at "medium" and the routine duties carried out by the troops had not been changed.
Officers said the 119-strong deployment from the 43rd infantry group had been fully trained to cope with any eventuality and their professionalism had been demonstrated in how they dealt with the attack on Thursday.
Investigators initially thought that the damage to the Mowag could have been caused by an improvised explosive device or a rocket-propelled grenade but inquiries since have pointed towards a mine.
The troops were travelling in five Mowags and returned to their camp within less than an hour of the incident.
Irish peacekeepers had previously returned fire on several occasions when coming under attack and believing their lives could be in danger. These included a number of incidents in south Lebanon.
Earlier this month, the soldiers were caught in crossfire between Syrian government forces and rebel fighters, with artillery shells falling close to their vehicles, but they were satisfied they were not being targeted.
Shortly before the troops left Dublin for their deployment from the end of September to February, the officer commanding the Irish peacekeepers, Lieut Col Brendan Delaney, said their training had been comprehensive and quite realistic and he was confident they could deal with problems that arose.
Defence Minister Alan Shatter said he had been briefed on the Irish deployment by Undof commanders.