Netanyahu, Putin Talk Following Russia's Offer to Replenish UN Troops in Golan Heights

Leaders talk about Syria escalation after Austrian peacekeeping forces announce intention to withdraw from UNDOF; UN declines Russia's offer.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, amid escalated fighting in Syria and the UN's involvement in the Israel-Syria border at a crossroads.

The conversation took place shortly after Putin offered to beef up the United Nations' presence along the Israel-Syria 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.

The Russian offer followed an announcement by Austria that it would withdraw its UN peacekeepers from the Israeli-Syrian border.

Austria's peacekeepers account for about 380 of the 900-member UN force monitoring a four-decade-old ceasefire between Syria and Israel. The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force was established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 350 on May 31, 1974 in order to monitor a ceasefire between the two countries.

Since 1974, UNDOF has been tasked with monitoring the "area of separation" between Syrian and Israeli forces, a narrow , 72 kilometer-long strip of land that runs from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan. The force has helped keep the area relatively stable, UN diplomats say.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, president of the Security Council this month, said after a special council session on the UNDOF crisis 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 the 26 of June, 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.

Speaking before the Security Council, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin repeated Putin’s offer to send a battalion of 300 soldiers to take the place of the outgoing Austrians. Churkin pointed out that in order for this to happen, both Syria and Israel must grant their approval for the move, as the 1974 Disengagement Agreement stipulates that the UNDOF in the Golan Heights must not be comprised of soldiers from one of the Security Council members – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, or France.

Putin, left, and his host, Netanyahu following meeting in Jerusalem, June 25, 2012.Credit: AFP

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