Saturday 25 November 2017

Over 100 Irish troops to join UN in Syrian peace role

Contingent will be deployed in war-torn Golan Heights region

A man carries a boy wounded in what the Free Syrian Army said was an air raid by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma district area near Damascus
A man carries a boy wounded in what the Free Syrian Army said was an air raid by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma district area near Damascus

Tom Brady Security Editor

MORE than 100 Irish troops are being sent to Syria to play a sensitive role in keeping the peace in the disputed Golan Heights region.

The 114-strong Irish contingent is expected to be in place on the front line by early September.

The mission comes two years into the civil war in Syria, which has displaced millions and caused what the UN has described as the worst humanitarian crisis in 20 years.

The Golan Heights has been tense since the beginning of the civil conflict. Last month, the embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad threatened to open "a new front" against Israel in the region.

The countries have technically been at war since 1967, when Israel seized much of the strategic plateau during the Six-Day War.

The United Nations is understood to have requested the participation of the Irish soldiers following the decision by the Austrian government to end its military involvement there.

As part of the 'triple-lock' mechanism, deployment by the Defence Forces was approved yesterday by the Cabinet, and the Dail is expected to sanction the move tomorrow.

The Irish troops will join the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) and will occupy posts on the Golan Heights, which has been hit by the recent escalation in the conflict taking place in Syria.

They will be given the role of acting as the force's mobile reserve and will be called in as reinforcements, as well as carrying out escorts and taking part in other operations.

They have already filled a similar role with the Unifil mission in nearby Lebanon and also in Liberia.

An advance party from the Defence Forces is likely to be sent to the Golan Heights within weeks after Government and military chiefs have considered a report from an initial reconnaissance party.

The mandate for the Undof mission was recently renewed by the UN security council for a further six months.

After yesterday's government decision, Defence Minister Alan Shatter said the Undof mission remained an important element in ensuring some level of stability in the region.

"The support of troop contributing countries, such as Ireland, allows the mission to continue implementing its mandate in a safe and secure manner," he said.

The deployment will bring the strength of the mission up to the authorised level of 1,250 personnel.

Undof is backed up by over 80 military observers from the United Nations truce supervi

sion organisation (Untso) in the Golan and this currently includes 10 Irish officers.

A senior security official told the Irish Independent last night that the Irish had been selected because of their known track record in the Middle East where they were regarded by all sides as "acting in good faith".

The deployment is seen as a big boost to the Defence Forces with the numbers involved in Lebanon being reduced.

Meanwhile, the "triple lock" mechanism, which means troops can only participate in overseas missions with approval of the UN, the Government and the Dail, is one of the key areas under discussion in the Government's green paper on defence, which was published yesterday.

The paper says that Ireland has "punched above its weight" in previous overseas missions and has made a valuable, disproportionate contribution to the UN.

The only exception, where Ireland was prevented from participating in an overseas mission as a result of the triple lock, was in Macedonia where a row in the UN security council over an unrelated matter led to China blocking the move.

Irish Independent

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