Syrian envoy hits UN’s ‘total inaction’ on Golan peacekeepers
UNITED NATIONS – The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations (UN) criticized the world body for alleged inaction despite Syrian rebels’ standoff with Filipino peacekeepers and the abduction of Fijian blue helmets in the Golan Heights.
Bashar Ja'afari, permanent representative of Syria to the UN, said in a press briefing that terrorists are able to establish a “safe zone” in the Syrian side of the Golan, reducing the mandate of the peacekeeping mission known as the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
Ja'afari spoke a day after the UN relocated its personnel to the Israeli-occupied side as armed groups made advances in UNDOF positions. His statement also comes two weeks after Filipino peacekeepers were caught in a standoff with rebels from the Al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front, which took 45 Fijians hostage.
The ambassador questioned the response of the UN, particularly its Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), to the deteriorating security situation in the Golan Heights.
“There is a total, unacceptable inaction by the DPKO. The Secretary-General is absent. The Security Council is not reacting in spite of the kidnapping by the terrorist groups of the Fijian soldiers and the threatening of the lives of the Filipinos operating within the UNDOF forces in the occupied Syrian Golan.”
He added, “It’s total inaction by all those who are responsible for the lives of UNDOF forces soldiers as well as for fulfilling the mandate of UNDOF in accordance with the disengagement forces agreement of 1974.”
Ja'afari also weighed in on the controversy surrounding the orders that UNDOF commander Iqbal Singh Singha of India gave to the peacekeepers. Philippine military officials said Singha ordered the Filipino troops to surrender their weapons. The troops took orders from the military leadership in Manila and hatched an escape plan carrying their weapons, defying Singha.
Yet DPKO head Hervé Ladsous said Singha merely asked the Filipinos “not to shoot” so as not to compromise negotiations to save the Fijians. (Read: Inside Filipino troops' 'greatest escape' in Golan)
“That was a great confusion among the UNDOF soldiers themselves …. We don’t know whether chief commander gave these instructions on his own or after consultations with Mr Ladsous in New York. This is something that needs to be clarified later on,” Ja’afari said.
"It’s total inaction by all those who are responsible for the lives of UNDOF forces soldiers as well as for fulfilling the mandate of UNDOF in accordance with the disengagement forces agreement of 1974."
Yet in a separate press briefing, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Ladsous already explained what happened. Ban did not respond to a question on what the UN will do to clarify conflicting statements on the orders.
“The security situation was very, very urgent and dangerous at that time. Therefore, you should also appreciate the peacekeepers were and still are working on the very difficult and dangerous situation,” said the UN chief.
The UN Security Council will hold closed consultations on UNDOF on Wednesday, September 17. A new report Ban wrote on UNDOF listed several clashes on the Golan since May, but said the mission must stay the course and continue to fulfill its mandate.
UNDOF monitors a 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The disengagement agreement provided for an area of separation and for two equal zones of limited forces and armaments.
Rebels have UN weapons, vehicles
Ja'afari also said that the Syrian rebels now have UN weapons and vehicles, which he said the Fijian peacekeepers surrendered to them.
"The terrorists are now using United Nations cars, which hold the emblem of the United Nations forces in the Golan. They are using the uniform of the UNDOF, the weapons of UNDOF, the positions of UNDOR to shell on the Syrian army as well as on the civilians in villages," Jaafari said.
The ambassador further questioned the UN’s decision to pull out its troops from the Syrian side of the Golan.
“They withdrew to the Israeli side and accepted to play the role of only watching what’s going on, on the other side …. [The UNDOF forces] evacuated suddenly its positions on the Syrian side, the line of demarcation, in violation of the mandate and without prior consultations with the Syrian government,” he said.
Jaafari also accused Israel, Qatar and Jordan of being behind a "very big plot" to destabilize Syria by letting the Syrian rebels take control of part of the buffer to set up a "safe zone" from where it can wage attacks.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan during the Six-Day War of 1967, then annexed it in 1981 in a move never recognized by the international community.
Some 510 square kilometers of the Golan remain on the Syrian side of the ceasefire line, with UNDOF overseeing a buffer zone stretching some 70 kilometers from Lebanon in the north to Jordan in the south.
Six countries contribute troops to the 1,200-strong UN force on the Golan: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines.
The Philippines will end its tour of duty in October and will no longer send troops to the Golan Heights because of safety concerns following the standoff and kidnappings last year. – With reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com