U.N. demands halt to all military activity on Golan

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The U.N. Security Council demanded a halt to all military activity by the Syrian government and opposition fighters on the Golan Heights Thursday and called for stepped up measures to protect U.N. peacekeepers who have been caught in crossfire.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the council extends the mandate of the U.N. force monitoring the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights until Dec. 31. The force, known as UNDOF, was established following intensified firing on the Israel-Syria border after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and Syria wants the land returned in exchange for peace.

For decades, the Golan Heights remained relatively quiet but in recent months, as the Syrian conflict escalated, it has become a battleground for Syrian troops and armed opposition groups.

Austria announced earlier this month that it would pull out its 377 peacekeepers from the 911-member U.N. force after fighting from the Syrian civil war threatened their positions. Fijian troops will replace them, but the U.N. is seeking additional troops to bring the U.N. force to its authorized strength of 1,250 troops.

The Security Council agreed with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s findings that ongoing military activities by any actor in the area of separation “continue to have the potential to escalate tensions” between Syria and Israel and pose a risk to the local civilian population and U.N. personnel on the ground.

The council stressed the need to enhance the safety and security of peacekeepers and endorsed the secretary-general’s recommendation to enhance the forces’ self-defense capabilities.

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