Israel: U.N. talking to Sweden on Golan force

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U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon is in exploratory talks with Sweden over plans it could lead a beefed-up peacekeeping force between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, an Israeli official said on Thursday.

“It’s in very preliminary stages,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“It hasn’t been established yet who agrees, who wants it. The conditions are not clear.”

Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Thursday that Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt favored sending troops to the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) to replace the Austrian contingent.

On Wednesday, Austria started withdrawing its personnel, as Syria’s civil war rages around its positions and following attacks and abductions of peacekeepers.

Haaretz said that Bildt would only send Swedes as part of a larger Nordic force from Finland, Norway and Denmark.

“The Swedes want to strengthen UNDOF’S mandate and turn it into a more robust force that would be better able to defend itself if attacked,” it wrote.

The Israeli official said “we don’t know everything that the Swedes said to Ban, but we know that there are feelers in that direction.”

Ban called on Wednesday for better protection for peacekeepers on the Golan and said it was “essential” that the mission remain.

U.N. troops monitoring the 1974 disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel traditionally only carry small arms.

Ban called on the U.N. Security Council to consider measures to beef up the force. “These include, as a matter of priority, enhancing the self-defense capabilities of UNDOF,” he said in a report.

Diplomats said the improved protection would include more armored cars and body armor and that the mission would cut back on patrols and perhaps close some observer positions.

The U.N. Security Council is to meet with troop-contributing countries on Thursday and plans to vote on a new mandate for UNDOF on June 26.

Ban is pressuring Austria to slow down its pullout so he can find replacements.

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