Syria welcomes Russia’s offer to replace Austrian peacekeepers at Golan Heights
DAMASCUS, June 7 (Xinhua) — Syria’s Foreign Ministry hailed Friday the Russian offer to replace Austrian peacekeepers in the Golan Heights after Austria decided to pull out its troops due to the rising tension on the Syrian borders with the Israeli-occupied territory.
While lamenting Austria’s decision to withdraw its 377 UN peacekeepers from the occupied Golan Heights due to the tension between rebels and government troops in the area, the ministry hailed Moscow’s offer to replace the Austrian UN troops, pledging full cooperation in that regard.
On Thursday, the Syrian rebels briefly overran a border crossing near the Golan Heights, but the Syrian troops later clashed with them and recaptured the border point in al-Quneitra city.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said the battles for controlling the border point at the Golan Heights pushed them to withdraw their troops. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he regretted such a decision by Austria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that his country was ready to replace the Austrian peacekeepers with Russian ones ” if the regional powers show interest and if the UN secretary general asks us to do so.”
“Given the complicated situation in the Golan Heights, we could replace the leaving Austrian contingent in this region on the border between Israeli troops and the Syrian army,” he said.
A total of 1,000 UN peacekeepers have been observing a four- decade-old ceasefire between Syria and Israel at the Golan Heights captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. But they have found themselves caught in the middle of violence between the Syrian troops and the rebels.
Over the past two months, a total of 25 Filipino peacekeepers had been kidnapped in two incidents by the rebels near the occupied Golan Heights.
Josephine Guerrero, spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping department, said that ‘while the offer was appreciated, the disengagement agreement and accompanying protocol do not allow the participation of troops from a permanent member of the UN Security Council’…