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Return of 119 troops from Syria delayed for two weeks over error in clearance to travel through Lebanon

The issue emerged on Monday morning as the troops were preparing to return from UN peacekeeping.

Irish soldiers during a training mission (File photo)
Irish soldiers during a training mission (File photo)
Image: Rollingnews

THE RETURN OF 119 Irish peacekeepers from Syria has been delayed for two weeks after they did not receive clearance to travel home via Lebanon from the war-torn nation.

Earlier this week, the Defence Forces said that the return of the 57th Infantry Group, which was in Syria on a United Nations peacekeeping mission, had been postponed.

No reason was given for the delay, with the Defence Forces saying that it was liaising with troops’ families and “actively working towards a return home” later in the week.

However it has now emerged that it will be two weeks before the peacekeepers can return home after the clearance issue arose on Monday morning.

According to Minister for State at the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe, the issue could not be resolved within a time-frame that would allow a new division of troops to be rotated into Syria.

The rotation involves a transit through Lebanon, which requires logistical and procedural arrangements in an area that is described as “challenging”.

Appropriate level

The junior minister said that rotation flights through Lebanon are confined to certain days and times, meaning that periods in which a new contingent of troops can travel into Syria is limited.

It was therefore decided to wait two weeks before the contingents were rotated, in order to ensure that an appropriate level of forces was maintained in Syria as part of the peacekeeping mission.

“Every effort was made to address this by the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs, but the issue could not be resolved within the time necessary to allow the rotation to be completed on schedule on Tuesday,” Kehoe said.

“As soon as this was known, the personnel and their families were contacted and advised of the issue and the postponement of the rotation.”

The troops are now expected to return home on 16 October, with their leave entitlements set to commence from then.

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They will continue to be paid while they serve abroad, and will be given a €1,000 payment to recognise the disruption caused to them.

Kehoe added that efforts are continuing to address the issue and ensure that the 119 troops return as soon as possible.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Defence Forces told TheJournal.ie that delays can arise as a result of the logistical arrangements required when rotating troops on peacekeeping missions.

“The Defence Forces is acutely aware of the impact that this unfortunate delay is having on both the personnel due to return home and those departing to service with UNDOF and their families,” the spokesman added.

With additional reporting from Christina Finn.

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