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Coveney confirms Irish troops will return to Golan Heights amid increased tensions

Opposition TDs Mick Wallace and Richard Boyd Barrett disagree with the move.

UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights.
UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

Updated: 7.30pm

IRISH TROOPS WILL remain in the Golan Heights as part of a UN peacekeeping mission.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney informed the Dáil of his decision this evening.

There was some uncertainty as to whether or not troops would return to the disputed territory, located on the border between Israel and Syria, following increased turmoil in the region.

Some 130 Irish soldiers are currently deployed there as part of the UNDOF (UN Disengagement Observer Force). A troop rotation is due to take place next month.

Speaking in the Dáil, Coveney said he was “satisfied that we can continue to contribute to the [UNDOF] mission”.

Today Israel’s military said it shot down a Syrian warplane over the Golan Heights, the first incident of its kind in three decades.

Earlier this month, Syrian troops and Islamist rebels exchanged fire near peace line in the Golan Heights. In August, 45 Fijian peacekeepers from the mission were kidnapped by Al Qaeda-linked rebels from the Al-Nusra Front, before being safely released.

Coveney deemed this behaviour as “entirely unacceptable”.

Given the evolving security situation, the mission has continued to reconfigure its operations, with a view to minimising unacceptable risks to peacekeepers, while continuing to implement the mission’s mandate.

“However, in the past fortnight there has been a fundamental realignment of the UNDOF mission reflecting the deteriorating situation on the ground. The Headquarters of UNDOF, including the Irish contingent, has now been relocated to Camp Ziouani, on the Israeli side of the area of separation,” Coveney stated.

undof coveney Simon Coveney Source: Oireachtas TV

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett disagreed with Coveney’s comments, telling the minister: “You should be careful and pull [Irish troops] out of a situation that’s getting totally out of control.”

Boyd Barrett said he saw “no purpose in our troops being there”, particularly given the increasing presence of the Islamic State militant group in Syria and Iraq.

Coveney said that the Al-Nusra Front rebels operating in the region were not linked to IS.

We are unlikely to see any bombing happening in [the Golan Heights].

‘Serious reservations’

Independent TD Mick Wallace said that while he accepted Irish soldiers wished to return to the region, he had “serious reservations” about sending them back.

Coveney said that ”further restructuring” of the UNDOC mission was needed, noting he would discuss the issue with the UN during a trip to New York later this week.

While Ireland remains committed to the mission, in light of recent events I have indicated that a fundamental review of the capacity of the mission to fulfill its mandate is necessary.

Coveney went on to commend the efforts of the current 44th Infantry Group in the Golan Heights, “together with all the peacekeepers participating in UNDOF”.

When questioned about the Syrian conflict last week, Coveney assured the Dáil that he would not “under any circumstances send Irish troops on a peacekeeping mission to become involved in a civil war or trying to enforce peace in a civil war”.

Originally published 7.05pm

Related: Syrian troops and Islamist rebels exchange fire near peace line in Golan Heights

Read: ‘Great escape’ Irish troops get ready to leave Golan Heights

Related: ‘I will not send Irish troops into civil war in Syria’ – Coveney

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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