herald

Saturday 21 October 2017

Irish troops pulled out of Sryian side of Golan over threat

Irish troops have been pulled back from their base in Syria on the Golan Heights to a new camp on the Israeli side of the United Nations patrol zone between the two countries.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney said the Irish were not going to get dragged into the Syrian civil war.

"That is why sensible and correct decisions have been made over the last few days," said the minister.

The change has boosted confidence that the next contingent of Irish peacekeeping troops will be deployed there.

UN troops from India, Nepal, the Philippines and the Fiji Islands were also redeployed due to the threat posed by factions involved in the uprising against the Assad regime. A Nepalese contingent will remain on the Syrian side in the strip of demilitarised land dividing Israel from Syria.

UNDOF (UN Disengagement Observer Force) was set up in 1974 to patrol the Golan Heights. But the area has become a battleground between rebel forces and troops loyal to the Syrian government.

Minister Coveney said there were still some doubts about the deployment of the next Irish contingent until after a meeting in New York but he is confident structural changes to the mission were managing the risks in a suitable way.

ANTICIPATION

He said Irish troops had been put in a position in recent weeks where they had to return fire. The decision to move camp was taken in anticipation of a large number of very well armed rebel forces moving north through the area.

He denied it was an evacuation but admitted "there are areas that would previously have been monitored by UN troops where they don't have a presence now, that is true".

Mr Coveney was in Athlone to review troops from the 46th Infantry Group who are due to travel to the Golan Heights in the coming weeks.

The 130 troops have been undergoing preparatory training for the past three months.

"They have been well trained for this, they are soldiers, and they are some of the best trained soldiers on the planet for the work that they are going to be undertaking," said the minister.

Approval will be sought for a structural change to the mission at a UN security council meeting this Thursday. Commanding officer of the 46th Infantry Group, Lt Col Dennis Harrington, said his troops are "very, very anxious to get out there".

Trooper Frank Black believes "the guys have to be a lot more switched on and a lot more prepared for what is going on".

hnews@herald.ie

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