UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Friday reaffirmed its unconditional support for maintaining the U.N. peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights that has been caught up in Syria's civil war.
Questions about the future of the 12,000-strong force had been raised after the abduction of 45 Fijian peacekeepers by al-Qaida-linked rebels who later freed them. The U.N. then withdrew soldiers from many positions on the Golan Heights last weekend because of escalating fighting in Syria.
A presidential statement approved Friday by the 15-member council made clear that the force will not be withdrawn or disbanded.
The Security Council called the mission vital "to peace and security in the Middle East."
The force known as UNDOF has patrolled a buffer zone between Syria and Israel since 1974, a year after the Arab-Israeli war. For nearly four decades, U.N. monitors helped enforce a stable truce between the two countries.
But the spillover from the Syrian war has led to the abduction of peacekeepers four times since March 2013 and led several countries to withdraw their soldiers.
The Security Council stressed that despite the temporary relocation of the majority of UNDOF's personnel to the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, Israel and Syria must remain committed to the 1974 agreement "and scrupulously observe the cease-fire and the separation of forces."
The council condemned recent hostile acts against the peacekeepers and demanded that rebel groups abandon all UNDOF positions and the Quenitra crossing point, and return U.N. vehicles, weapons, and other equipment taken from captured Fijians.
It singled out the activities of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, whose fighters captured the Fijians, and other unnamed opposition group, citing the risk they pose to the Israeli-Syrian accord and to peacekeepers serving in the Golan.
"In this connection, the Security Council recognizes the necessity of efforts to flexibly adjust UNDOF's posture to minimize risk to U.N. personnel as UNDOF continues to implement its mandate," the statement said.
But the council emphasized that "the ultimate goal is for the peacekeepers to return to their positions in UNDOF's area of operation as soon as practicable."
The council called on all parties to allow UNDOF to operate freely, and asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide an update within 30 days on the steps necessary to enable the U.N. force to carry out its mandate even if it can't operate fully on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.