Newspaper article International New York Times

Philippines Pulls Troops from Buffer near Israel ; Aquino Faults U.N. Rules Governing Peacekeepers at Risk from Syria Rebels

Newspaper article International New York Times

Philippines Pulls Troops from Buffer near Israel ; Aquino Faults U.N. Rules Governing Peacekeepers at Risk from Syria Rebels

Article excerpt

The Philippines' president has grown exasperated with the Golan peacekeeping operation, which is ill equipped to deal with heavily armed Syrian rebels.

The four-decade United Nations peacekeeping operation in the Golan Heights region between Israel and Syria, largely curtailed last week because of Syria's civil war, has been further undermined with confirmation that the Philippine contingent was going home.

President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines, in an interview with The New York Times while attending the United Nations Climate Summit, said Tuesday that most of the Philippine soldiers, having retreated from the buffer zone between Israel and Syria to the Israeli side last week because of Syrian insurgent attacks, had departed for the Philippines, with the rest to follow.

Mr. Aquino has grown exasperated with the Golan peacekeeping operation, known as the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, or Undof, which is ill equipped to deal with heavily armed Syrian insurgents who have encroached with growing frequency.

The peacekeepers have not been permitted to significantly strengthen their own arsenal despite recurrent threats of kidnapping and attack. A group of Philippine soldiers was abducted in March 2013 by one Syrian rebel faction, and last month two outposts staffed by Filipinos came under assault by insurgents.

"The rules of engagement, the terms of engagement, are not really clear," Mr. Aquino said in explaining why the contingent, which numbers about 300 troops, or roughly a quarter of the Undof deployment, was going home.

It was unclear when, or even whether, the Philippine forces would be replaced in the Undof operation, which also includes troops from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands, some of them also subjected to attacks from the Syrian side.

A United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the issue is politically delicate, said that the Philippines had long signaled its intention to withdraw from Undof, and that after its soldiers were attacked in August, "a decision was made to advance their planned repatriation. …

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