Thursday 17 January 2019

Coveney tells of fears for our peacekeepers in Golan region

THE peace-keeping mission on the Golan Heights has been "compromised" by the emergence of well-armed Syrian rebel groups, the Defence Minister has said.

Minister Simon Coveney has also warned that over-arming Ireland's UN peacekeepers in the disputed Israeli-Syrian border area could make them a target for Islamic radicals.

Mr Coveney will today update the Cabinet on the UNDOF mission and whether he will recommend that Ireland dispatch fresh troops to Syria as part of the planned rotation over the coming weeks.

Last month, Syrian rebels kidnapped Fijian peacekeepers and a Filipino UN detachment had to be rescued by Ireland's UN rapid reaction force.

"Clearly the overall mission is somewhat compromised given what has happened," Mr Coveney said. "Which is why, over the medium term, we will [have to] be able to get the reassurances we need from the Syrian side to be able to move troops back to what will hopefully become a demilitarised zone."

But he warned against the knee-jerk reaction of providing even more heavy weaponry for the Irish detachment.

Irish troops are currently equipped with Swiss-built MOWAG armoured personnel carriers as well as heavy machine guns and regular Steyr assault rifles.

"There is a balance to be had here - if you over-arm people in a Chapter Six [peacekeeping] environment, then you are creating potential targets for people that may want to acquire that weaponry," he said.

"Having said that, we do need to make sure that people can protect themselves."

Last week, Irish peacekeepers redeployed, along with other UN detachments, to the posts closer to the Israeli side of the so-called 'Alpha Line' on the Golan Heights.


This was in direct response to a number of attacks on UN outposts located closer to the Syrian border.

The only UN troops now on the Syrian side of the Alpha Line are a detachment of Nepalese troops holding a strategic base in a mountainous area.

The UN security council will review the UNDOF mission within 30 days to determine if the risk to peacekeepers has been successfully reduced.


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