Nepalese peacekeepers posted to the United Nation’s force in southern Lebanon will redeploy to the Golan Heights to fill a hole left by the pullout of hundreds of blue helmets from the Israel-Syria border.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) announced on Wednesday that Nepal had agreed to move one company of peacekeeping troops to join the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which patrols the Golan.
The move comes two weeks after Austria announced that it would withdraw all of its 377 troops from UNDOF — created in 1974 in the wake of the previous year’s Yom Kippur War — by the end of July.
According to the UNDOF website, there are currently 1,250 troops deployed as peacekeepers along the Israeli-Syrian border from the Philippines, Fiji Islands and India. The Nepalese company being deployed will add some 130 troops to the force. Fiji added 170 troops at the end of June to also boost the depleted numbers.
Japan and Croatia previously pulled troops out, fearful for their safety as fighting in the Syrian civil war reached the Golan Heights. There have been a number of incidents of UN troops coming under fire and several cases where Filipino troops have been kidnapped and briefly held by rebel forces.
In June, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and Vice-Chancellor Michael Spindelegger announced that the decision to pull the troops out was due to the “continuously deteriorating security situation on the ground.”
The Philippines has the largest peacekeeping contingent on the Golan Heights, with 342 soldiers. Manila has been considering pulling their troops out in mid-August, saying they face “an undoable mission” if their security in the increasingly violent buffer zone was not bolstered.
On Sunday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario set out conditions to the UN for the Filipino peacekeepers to remain on the Golan, provided they are equipped with heavier weapons and better protection for patrolling the volatile border between Israel and Syria.
UNIFIL currently consists of nearly 11,000 troops from 37 countries. It was created in 1978 and constituted in its current form in 2006 as part of the ceasefire arrangements between Israel and Hezbollah following the Second Lebanon War.
The temporary shortage of troops in Lebanon created by the redeployment of the company from Nepal will be made up by enhanced presence of reserve Nepalese units until a replacement company arrives from Nepal in September.
Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.
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