The UN is quietly pulling back from the parts of the peacekeeper-administered military disengagement zone separating the Israeli and Syrian-controlled sections of the Golan Heights.
Reuters quotes an anonymous UN staffer as saying that “Staff in U.N. positions 10, 16, 31 and 37, as well as Camp Faouar on the (Syrian) side are being relocated.”
Twitter user and Israel-based blogger Judge Dan created a map of these positions based off of the UN’s publically-available information on the location of the UN Disengagement Observer Force’s various bases:
According to the deployment map on UNDOF’s website, these positions are near a base for Fijian peacekeepers — dozens of whom were kidnapped by the Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusral in late August.
It’s likely that the UN is just temporarily reducing its presence in these areas until the security situation calms down. But the northern area of the usually-quiet disengagement zone — which was established after Israel beat back a Syrian surprise attack on October 6th, 1973, and agreed to withdraw to the pre-conflict front line after advancing to within 25 miles of Damascus — has turned into a trouble spot for the UN recently.
On August 30th, while the Fijian peacekeepers were still in jihadist captivity, militants surrounded peacekeepers from the Philippines inside the disengagement area; they were rescued by Irish peacekeepers after a reported firefight.
The Fijians were eventually released, and earlier today, the Israeli newspaper Ydiot Achronot published video of jubilant peacekeepers arriving in Israeli-controlled territory.
UNDOF position 16 is located near the “Shouting Hill,” a spot where Druze in the Israeli-controlled town of Majdal Shams attempt to communicate with friends and family on the Syrian side of the disengagement zone. In reducing its presence near one of the more populated sections along the disengagement area, UNDOF is expressing confidence that the over 40-year-old state of ceasefire between the Israeli and Syrian governments can endure even during a major interruption in the mission’s implementation.
But even if the withdrawal does turn out to be temporary, an Al Qaeda affiliate has still destabilized a peacekeeper-enforced area to the point where the UN has actually had to remove its personnel. UNDOF is proving less and less capable of keeping itself together. The one, fairly peripheral portion of Syria that’s directly administered by the international community is too dangerous for a UN peacekeeping force — a disheartening sign of just how far the country’s civil war is from any kind of resolution.
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