Sept. 15, 2014 – Al Qaeda linked militants have taken over UN positions in Golan, are wearing United Nations blue berets and after taking Fijian troops hostage they surrounded another UN base with explosives to prevent troops from evacuating, detonating one of the explosives.
These are among the details in Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the beleaguered UNDOF mission in Golan where on Monday the UN evacuated all its troops to the Israeli side of the ceasefire line after the security situation deteriorated even further.
Some 300 militants were involved in the incident where the 45 Fijian troops were taken captive, Ban’s report says. The troops were released on Thursday. The Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that Qatar paid a $20 million ransom to release the peacekeepers.
Ban’s report presents the peacekeepers as essentially operating in an active war zone, caught up in a conflict between armed opposition groups and Syrian armed forces. The IDF have also fired numerous artillery rounds and launched air strikes as a result of firing from the Syrian side into Israel, including dropping several bombs near Camp Faouar, the headquarters for the UN mission in Golan. A number of Syrian government soldiers were killed as a result of Israeli fire.
The report, released on Monday, also says cluster munitions have been used near UN facilities.
Syrian armed forces are operating inside the ceasefire line in breach of the disengagement agreement. There are at least ten tanks belonging to Syrian forces operating inside the zone while armed groups also possess tanks. Both sides are operating checkpoints inside the area, the report, which covers May 29 to Sept. 3, states.
The armed groups are “in control of numerous United Nations armoured vehicles,” and have looted and taken command of facilities that UN troops have vacated.
“The activities of several armed elements, including the al-Nusra Front, in the UNDOF area of operation since late August, and the direct confrontations with United Nations personnel, forced UNDOF to vacate all but one of its positions in the southern area of separation,” the report states [see map]. “Armed opposition groups and other armed groups have gained control of a large part of the area of separation, including a section of the main road connecting the two UNDOF camps and the crossing between the Alpha [Israeli] and the Bravo [Syrian] sides.”
The report adds that the UN peacekeepers have witnessed several interactions between the Israeli Defense Forces and armed groups.
“Throughout the reporting period, UNDOF frequently observed armed members of the opposition interacting with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations position 85. UNDOF observed armed members of the opposition transferring 47 wounded persons from the Bravo side across the ceasefire line to IDF, and IDF on the Alpha side handing over 43 treated individuals to the armed members of the opposition on the Bravo side,” it says.
UNDOF, which costs $64 million per year to run as of 2014, was created in 1974 to observe the disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel. It currently has 1,271 troops, including 48 women, from Fiji, Ireland, the Philippines, Nepal, India and the Netherlands.
In his conclusion, Ban writes that “UNDOF will continue to use its best efforts to monitor the ceasefire between Syrian and Israeli forces and see that it is observed, albeit in increasingly challenging and difficult circumstances.” He also calls for greater support from the Security Council who are scheduled to discuss Ban’s report on Sept. 18.
But it appears that the fate of the mission is sealed for now after Monday’s decision to relocate all troops to the Israeli side, essentially ending UNDOF’s mission to operate in the separation zone observing the ceasefire agreement.
The full report is here.
– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz