U.N. wants better protection for Golan peacekeepers

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U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday called for better protection for U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights to counter the growing threat of spillover violence from the Syria conflict.

Ban made the call as Austrian troops started withdrawing from the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) following attacks and abductions of peacekeepers. Croatia and Japan have also withdrawn in recent months.

U.N. troops monitoring a ceasefire 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.

“It is also necessary to consider further adjustments to the posture and operations of the mission,” said Ban.

Diplomats said better self-defense would mean more armored cars and body armor and the changes to the mission operations would mean further cutting back on patrols and perhaps closing some observer positions.

Austria, the biggest single contributor to UNDOF, began withdrawing its troops from the force on Wednesday. About 70 soldiers from the 378-strong Austrian contingent entered Israel to begin their journey home.

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