Irish troops escape Syria crossfire

Irish troops serving in the Golan Heights had a lucky escape yesterday after twice getting caught in cross-fire between Syrian government forces and anti-Assad rebels.

The Irish Second Brigade involved in the UN’s Disengagement Observer Force came under fire yesterday morning during a routine escort mission, with three artillery rounds landing within 200m of the convoy in the first instance and as many as 10 artillery rounds landing nearby in the second attack.

The 39 Irish soldiers were travelling with 24 international companions as part of the convoy and left their base at Camp Faouar at around 9am local time (11am Irish time).

Not long afterwards they became caught in the crossfire between the two warring factions in the Syrian civil war.

Once the three artillery rounds landed the mission continued, but the decision was taken at 10.30am local time to return to camp given the significant number of armed forces from both sides of the Syrian war active in the area.

At 10.55am the convoy was again caught up in crossfire with 10 rounds landing near the 10 armoured vehicles.

The convoy reached the base at 11.30am, with no injuries and no damage caused to the vehicles.

Cmdt Denis Hanly of the Defence Forces Press Office said the UN mission had not been deliberately targeted and there was at present no way of knowing which side fired the errant rounds.

“This is the reality of modern peacekeeping,” he said.

“This was reasonably common in the Lebanon back in the ’80s. It’s the reality of what soldiers do.”

The Defence Forces were unable to say what level of contact took place between the UN convoy and the pro and anti-Assad forces in the area at the time of both incidents. There is a liaison between UN forces and the Syrian military, while levels of communication between the UN group and rebel factions is patchier.

The Irish peacekeepers on duty are mostly from the northern half of the country, including Dublin, and were deployed in mid-September.

That deployment is part of a longstanding mission dating back to 1973 to police the separation zone between Israel and Syria.

A crater and shrapnel analysis which might have indicated which side fired the rounds which landed could not be carried out yesterday.

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