During Quneitra Clashes, Israel Threatened to Attack Syrian Forces, UN Peacekeeping Chief Says

UN's peacekeeping chief told a special UNSC session that Assad regime military tanks entered Golan Heights demilitarized zone during clashes at Quneitra border post, and IDF threatened to respond. Senior IDF official confirms the warning was given.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said at a closed emergency session of the UN Security Council on Friday night that Israel threatened to attack President Bashar Assad's troops near the border with Syria, during clashes Thursday between rebels and the Assad regime.

A senior IDF official confirmed Saturday that Israel did indeed pass that warning to the Syrians.

During the meeting with 15 members of the Security Council in New York, Ladsous said that the Israel Defence Forces and Syrian military were on the verge of the most direct military clash between the neighboring countries on the Golan Heights front in the past 40 years.

Blogger Nabil Abi Saab published a UN document on his blog UN Report, which contains most of what Ladsous said at the New York meeting. The document, titled "Note on developments in UNDOF," said that after the rebels' conquest of Quneitra, the Syrian military put five tanks and five armored personnel carriers in the demilitarized buffer zone in the Golan.

This extraordinary Syrian step jolted the IDF troops in the area, and even reached the office of Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. "The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) informed the UNDOF Force Commander that should the movement of SAAF tanks continue, the IDF would take action," the document states. "Subsequently, the UNDOF Force Commander conveyed the message to the Senior Syrian Arab Delegate (SSAD), UNDOF’s main interlocutor on the Bravo side."

The Syrian response was quick to arrive, according to the document. "The SSAD informed the UNDOF Force Commander that the presence of the tanks was solely for the purpose of fighting the armed members of the opposition and asked that the IDF not take action."

The senior IDF officer said Saturday: "We passed a message via UNDOF in which we demanded the Syrians take their tanks out of the demilitarized zone, and we made it clear that if the tanks work against us we will attack them."

The IDF spokesperson said in a statement that the IDF maintains constant contact with UN forces.

Ladsous told the UNSC meet that, at the time of the meeting, the Syrians had four tanks and three armed personnel carriers in the demilitarized zone, a breach of the May 1974 disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria. He added that Israel informed the UNDOF commander that it had given medical treatment to 16 armed Syrian opposition members, all of whom were returned to the Syrian side of the border after treatment.

Worries over the aftermath of Austria's withdrawal of its some 300 troops from the 1,000 strong UNDOF force were also discussed at Friday's UNSC session.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, president of the Security Council this month, told reporters after the session that the council is examining the possibility of changing the force's mandate, in a way that would strengthen its abilities to function under the current regional climate.

Grant stated that on June 26, a vote will take place on extending the forces' presence by six months. Before the referendum, UNDOF will present the Security Council with various possibilities for reworking the peacekeeping force’s mandate.

The British ambassador also stated that in the meantime, the Security Council has approached the Austrian government with a request to put off recalling the Austrian troops for as long as possible, in order to provide more time for an alternative solution to be found. Grant pointed out that UNDOF also approached India and the Philippines with requests to send additional troops to complement the forces those nations have already provided. A similar request was made to Fiji, which too provides a small contingent of soldiers to UNDOF.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, amid the escalated fighting in Syria and the question marks over the UN's peacekeeping force at the Israel-Syria border. The conversation took place shortly after Putin offered to beef up the United Nations' presence along the border. The offer was declined by the United Nations.

The Kremlin spokesman who announced that the conversation took place said Netanyahu and Putin discussed the situation in Syria, but did not provide further details as to the content of their conversation.

Golan Heights fire caused by clashes between Syrian army and rebels, June 6, 2013.Credit: AFP

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