Putin Offers Russian Troops as Golan Peacekeepers

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President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia volunteered his country's troops as replacements on Friday for the Austrian members of a United Nations peacekeeping force who are vacating the disputed Golan Heights area along the Israel-Syria border, where violence from the Syrian civil war has intensified.

"Given the complicated situation in Golan Heights we could replace the Austrian contingent leaving this region, on the disengagement line between Israeli troops and the Syrian armed forces," Mr. Putin was quoted as telling newly appointed Russian officers in remarks in Moscow carried by the Interfax news agency. "But this will happen, of course, only if the regional powers show interest, and if the U.N. secretary general asks us to do so."

The departure of the Austrians, announced Thursday, has threatened the future of the Golan peacekeeping force, known as the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, or Undof, a multinational group of about 1,000 soldiers who have helped keep the area relatively tranquil for four decades. The Austrian government decided to pull its 380 soldiers on Thursday after Syrian rebels briefly seized the Austrian area of responsibility, the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria, in clashes with Syrian government forces that lasted for several hours.

The Philippines also has been contemplating a pullout of its 300-member contingent in the force because of two episodes earlier this year in which Filipino soldiers were abducted by Syrian insurgents. Troops from India make up the rest of the peacekeeping force.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, expressed regret over the Austrian decision, and said in a statement on Thursday that he was "approaching member states in an effort to identify urgently new contributors or additional contributions to Undof."

United Nations officials acknowledged Mr. Putin's offer. But the complexities of the Syrian civil war, the tensions between Syria and Israel and the diplomatic agreement that created the peacekeeping force appeared to make Russian participation in the force an unlikely outcome.

Russia is the major arms supplier to the Syrian government and has been criticized by Israel for planning to furnish advanced missile defense systems to President Bashar al-Assad.

The Israeli government, which has expressed concern about spillover of the Syria conflict in the Golan area and recently strengthened its forces there, had no comment on Mr. Putin's offer but was not expected to endorse it.

Josephine Guerrero, a spokeswoman for the United Nations peacekeeping operations, said Russia's position as a permanent member of the Security Council also was an obstacle. Under the 1973 agreement that created the Golan force, she said, no permanent members can participate.

Still, she said, "We appreciate the consideration that the Russian Federation has given to provide troops on the Golan."

The peacekeeping force has been responsible for keeping calm between Israeli and Syrian forces in the demilitarized zone in the Golan, established after a cease-fire ended the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

Ellen Barry contributed reporting from Moscow, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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