The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday reaffirmed its support for the UN peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights, and called for blue helmets to prepare to return a base inside Syria that was abandoned amid intense fighting near the Syrian border with Israel.
The 15-member council unanimously voted to have the operations of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) extended through December 31, 2016, even as the Syrian conflict has repeatedly threatened the safety of its troops, raising questions about its ability to police the border.
The council called for a return of peacekeepers to Camp Faouar, a position they had abandoned after the capture, and subsequent release, of 45 Fijian peacekeepers two years ago by the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
UNDOF has since relocated the majority of its personnel to the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. Qatar, a patron of the Nusra Front, reportedly paid the group some $25 million for their release, amid growing pressure from the US and other countries.
The raging civil war in Syria has destabilized the region and has threatened the peacekeepers’ presence in the Golan. Since March 2013, peacekeepers have been abducted five times by various Syrian groups, which had led several countries to withdraw their soldiers.
UNDOF has patrolled a buffer zone between Syria and Israel since 1974, a year after the Arab-Israeli war. For nearly four decades, UN monitors helped enforce a stable truce between the two countries.
Israel welcomed the Security Council’s decision Wednesday, with Israeli envoy to the UN Danny Danon urging the force to retake its previous positions.
“UNDOF manning these positions is in Israel’s interest,” he said, adding that peacekeepers “play an important role and Israel is interested in them returning to the buffer zone in the quickest, and safest way, possible.”
The council’s statement called on Syrian groups to abandon UNDOF positions on the Syrian side of the Golan, including in the Quneitra crossing, and return vehicles and military equipment seized in the abductions and subsequent evacuation of peacekeepers.
The Council called “on all parties to the Syrian domestic conflict to cease military actions in the UNDOF area of operations and to respect international humanitarian law.”
“The ongoing military activities conducted by any actor in the area of separation continue to have the potential to escalate tensions between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic, jeopardize the ceasefire between the two countries, and pose a risk to the local civilian population and United Nations personnel on the ground,” the statement read.