The UN troops stationed along Israel’s northern borders, in the Lebanese and Syrian sectors, fear for their lives and the decision to pull them out of the region could come at any moment. Yesterday, it was reported that the [Syrian] rebels occupied a UN base, kidnapped three soldiers and released them after a short time. Arms and ammunition were taken from the base. Each incident of this kind merely heightens the pressure on UN forces to leave.
Although any decision about the pull out UN forces from the buffer zone on the border with Syria requires the approval of their headquarters in New York, and the withdrawal of UNIFIL also requires a UN decision, each country has the right to decide independently to withdraw its soldiers.
Countries that sent troops to the Syrian and Lebanese borders are currently discussing whether or not to pull them out. In the wake of the two incidents of kidnapping, which occurred two months and a week ago respectively, in which UN observers from the Philippines were abducted from the Syrian border, several countries have already decided to withdraw their troops from the region.
UNDOF (the UN’s Disengagement Observer Force) numbers approximately 1,000 troops, and has been stationed along the Israeli-Syrian border since the Yom Kippur War. It consists of two battalions, guarding a 80 kilometer-long border. The northern, Austrian battalion stationed north of Kuneitra also includes a Croatian force. The southern battalion is controlled by the Philippines. Until recently, the force also included Canadians and Japanese, but they left because of the dangerous situation.
In Austria, which has 377 troops on duty, discussions are being held about a possible withdrawal because of security and political reasons. Austria has refused to accept the decision of Western countries to arm the rebels in Syria, for fear that these weapons would, in the end, be used against forces preventing attacks against Israel. Vienna threatened that such a decision would prompt an immediate withdrawal of its troops from the buffer zone.
The Philippines are also close to reaching a similar decision after some of its troops near Dara’a in southern Syria were kidnapped twice in the past two months.
The escalation of the security situation along the Lebanese-Syrian border prompted a decision to redeploy Lebanese army troops from southern Lebanon into northern Lebanon, which has resulted in decreased security for the UNIFIL troops deployed in southern Lebanon by power of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was passed after the Second Lebanon War. The UNIFIL troops are responsible for preventing Hizbullah from having a presence south of the Litani River. Under the current circumstances, the peace-keepers have found themselves under attack repeatedly by locals who are affiliated with Hizbullah.
A source in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament in Luxembourg said, “Angelina Eichhorst, the EU ambassador to Beirut, sent a letter of warning to Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati that Europe would withdraw the UNIFIL troops that protect the border with Israel unless actions were taken to ensure their security.”