UN extends force along Israeli-Syrian border

AP News
Posted: Dec 21, 2011 12:14 PM
UN extends force along Israeli-Syrian border

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to extend the U.N. peacekeeping force along the Israeli-Syrian border, warning that events in the region could impact its operations.

The 15-member council renewed the mandate of the more than 1,000-strong force for six months until June 30.

The U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, known as UNDOF, was established in 1974, following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, to monitor the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, and Syria wants the land returned in exchange for peace.

The council resolution, co-sponsored by the United States and Russia, doesn't directly mention Syria's ongoing crackdown on demonstrators demanding an end to President Bashar Assad's regime. But it notes that "evolving conditions in the region could have an impact on the functioning of the force."

The resolution also expresses "grave concern" at the serious events in UNDOF's area of operations on May 15 and June 5 when Syrian demonstrators crossed into Israel and "put the long-held ceasefire in jeopardy." The incidents marked the first serious border violations in decades.

On the May 15 anniversary of Israel's birth in 1948, hundreds of Palestinians and their supporters poured across the Syrian frontier and staged riots, drawing Israeli accusations that Damascus, and its ally Iran, orchestrated the unrest to shift attention from the uprising back home. The June 5 clashes, in which Israeli forces reportedly killed 20 people and wounded scores more, marked the anniversary of the Arab defeat in the 1967 Mideast war.

In a recent report to the Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said UNDOF fortified its positions after these events "to ensure that the force has the operational capability to mitigate risks in the future." He added without elaborating that UNDOF has also done contingency planning "for various scenarios relating to the operational environment."

The Security Council echoed the secretary-general in noting "with concern that the situation in the Middle East is tense and is likely to remain so, unless and until a comprehensive settlement covering all aspects of the Middle East problem can be reached."

Ban urged all parties to resume negotiations as soon as possible on a comprehensive Mideast peace agreement, which would involve Israel, the Palestinians, Syria, Lebanon and the broader Arab world.