Jun 142013


Israeli soldiers stand on top of a Merkava tank stationed in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights near the border with Syria on May 26, 2013. A former commander of UN peacekeeping troops in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights has warned that the entire force would be in jeopardy if Austria withdraws. Austria — which provides the largest number of troops to the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) on the Golan — has threatened to withdraw its troops over concerns for their safety if the EU lifts an embargo on supplying arms to the Syrian opposition. AFP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Israel on Friday expressed gratitude to the Filipino peacekeepers “for their courage” and determination to keep peace in the volatile Golan Heights.

“The government of Israel, through its Embassy in Manila, sincerely thanks the brave men and women of the Philippine Army for their courage and adherence to the goals of peace and security,” the Israeli Embassy in Manila posted in its Facebook account.

The embassy tagged the Filipino soldiers as “world class.”

The 341 Filipino members of the United Nations Disengagement Force now comprise the biggest contingent in the Golan Heights after Austria began pulling out its 377 troops amid intense fighting between Syrian troops and rebels.

“The continued contribution and deployment of the Filipino contingency is an asset to international society as we highly respect the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Force. The Filipino soldier is, indeed, world-class,” the embassy said.

Manila has been considering to bring the Filipino troops home soon, after some were briefly kidnapped by Syrian rebels in recent months.

On Tuesday, President Benigno Aquino urged the United Nations to provide more security to its depleted peacekeeping force so the Filipino contingent could stay.

Aquino said the peacekeepers’ situation had become more tenuous by the day, after one Filipino peacekeeper was wounded last week by wayward mortar fire amid a fight between Syrian troops and rebels.

Austria started to pull out its peacekeepers from the UN mission on Wednesday due to the worsening security situation in the region. Austria peacekeepers take up about one-third of the UN mission.

When Austria completes the pull out, there will be only 534 peacekeepers left, 341 of which are from the Philippines.

Only contingents from India and Philippines have remained after Canada, Japan and Croatia and Austria as the most recent, decided to quit the peacekeeping mission.

The peacekeepers are part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force. They monitor the buffer zone between Syria and Israel.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a report to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, said that self defense capabilities of the UN peacekeeping mission in the area must be enhanced, and also proposed to increase the force strength of the UN mission to about 1,250 troops. With Agence France-Presse

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Tags: Golan Heights , Israel , peacekeepers , Syria , United Nations Disengagement Force

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