Israel has reacted angrily to Austria‘s decision to withdraw its peacekeeping forces from the Golan Heights, saying the move has undermined the authority of the United Nations as the Syrian civil war threatens to spill over the border into Israel.
Israeli officials say the withdrawal of Austrian troops from the peacekeeping force monitoring the demilitarised border area following the injury of a Filipino soldier during clashes on Thursday threatened the role of the UN Security Council in any future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
In a statement issued late on Thursday afternoon, Austria announced its decision to remove all 380 of its troops from the 1,000-strong force on the Israel-Syrian border due to the “continuing deterioration of the situation in the area”.
“Austrian soldiers face an uncontrollable and direct threat, which has increased to an unacceptable level. The development in the early morning hours of today has shown that it is no longer justifiable to watch and wait,” said the statement issued by Werner Faymann, Austria’s federal chancellor, and Michael Spindelegger, vice-chancellor, of its mission in the Golan.
Syrian rebels groups briefly seized control of the Quneitra border crossing after hours of sustained and intense fighting with tanks and artillery, during which several shells exploded inside Camp Ziouni, a UN compound inside the demilitarised zone, and three mortars reportedly exploded inside Israeli-occupied territory.
During this time, the likelihood of Israeli forces entering Syrian territory to secure their border was higher than at any point since 1974. Israeli military action was averted, officials said, because the Syrian president, Bashar Assad, won and took back control of the crossing