12 Jun 2013

Golan withdrawal begun by Austria

10:19 am on 12 June 2013

Austria has begun withdrawing its 377 soldiers from the Golan Heights after nearly four decades of monitoring a UN buffer zone between Israel and Syria.

The Ministry of Defence in Vienna said that the decision was taken when the conflict in Syria spilled over into the ceasefire area.

"The first 60 to 80 soldiers will land in Vienna tomorrow afternoon," said a ministry spokesman.

The full Austrian withdrawal will be completed within a month.

More than 900 UN soldiers form the mission which monitors the demilitarised zone between Syria and Israel.

The BBC reports the withdrawal of Austria's peacekeepers will leave the Philippines as the largest contributor.

India also has troops based in the Golan, but Croatia, Canada and Japan have withdrawn their contingents because of the conflict in Syria.

Israel captured part of the plateau in 1967 and later annexed it in a move that has never been internationally recognised.

Israel is worried the Golan Heights could be used to launch attacks against Israel - either by rebels, in Syria or by Hizbollah, which is fighting on the government side.