March 26, 2015 – UN peacekeepers continue to observe interactions between armed groups in the Golan Heights and members of the Israeli Defence Forces.
The information was in the latest report to the Security Council from Ban Ki-moon on the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force monitoring the 1974 ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria.
“UNDOF observed one occasion in November  and several in January and February when armed individuals crossed the ceasefire line, approached the technical fence [that runs along the length of the Israeli side of the buffer zone] and at times interacted with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations observation posts 51 and 54 [see map,]” Ban wrote in the report released this week.
The Al Nusra Front and allied groups control most of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights but are engaged in an ongoing battle with Iran-backed Hezbollah for control of the strategic plateau.
Ban’s report also said that trucks, some mounted with anti-aircraft guns, crossed over to the Israeli side and that packages were loaded onto a number of trucks before returning to the Syrian side. The report added that injured individuals were also transported to the Israeli side.
“In some instances, wounded individuals were handed over from the Bravo [Syrian] side to the Alpha [Israeli] side. During the evening of 20 January, in the area north of observation post 54, UNDOF observed two trucks crossing from the Bravo side to the Alpha side, where they were received by IDF personnel. The trucks were loaded with sacks before returning to the Bravo side,” Ban wrote.
“On at least four occasions in February, United Nations personnel at observation post 54 saw vehicles, including small trucks, crossing the ceasefire line from the Bravo side and approaching the technical fence,” the UN chief added. “On one such occasion, several vehicles, including some with anti-aircraft guns mounted on the back, were seen parked next to the technical fence.”
The UNDOF force has seen its size and scope reduced in recent months due to the deteriorating security situation and most of the troops are located on the Israeli side while also manning some key observation posts including on Mount Hermon.
Late last year, Ban recommended reducing the force from its mandated strength of about 900 personnel to less than 750 because of limited capacity and the reluctance of countries to offer troops for the mission. In the past year or so, Austria, the Philippines, Japan and Croatia have all withdrawn their contingents. Currently, troops from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands make up the force.
Recently, a spokesperson for the Czech president’s office said the country has offered troops to replace those departing.
“By sending Czech soldiers to the mission in the Golan Heights and possibly also to the mission in Lebanon, the president (Zeman) wants to not only confront the threat of Islamism, but also reinforce the defense of Israel,” Hynek Kmoníček, head of the foreign affairs section of the Presidential Office, told the daily Mladá fronta Dnes.
However, the spokesperson was corrected by the Czech military’s chief-of staff who said UNDOF’s mission “is not to defend Israel against possible attacks by Islamic militants, given the mission’s mandate and the capabilities of the Israeli forces.”
The report from Ban also said that UN vehicles stolen by Al Nusra are being used by the group and some have been outfitted with anti-aircraft guns.
The full report is below.
- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz