Ireland will not leave Golan Heights

Ireland will not unilaterally pull its troops out of the UN peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights, Defence Minister Simon Coveney has said.

Ireland will not leave Golan Heights

The insistence came just a day after Mr Coveney said the 133 soldiers faced an “unacceptable” level of danger as the area they cover became dragged into the Syrian civil war.

Asked if there was any question of Ireland going solo on a pull-out, Mr Coveney said: “Not for the moment, no. We need to go through a full reevaluation and review process now. You are not going to get knee-jerk reactions from me.” Mr Coveney said the troops were safe.

The minister made it clear Ireland expected the UN to radically alter the terms on which the peacekeeping force, known as UNDOF, operates.

“The UN now needs to respond either by a change of mandate, or a change of structure, in that mission to the new realities on the ground, which is that there is a civil war raging in Syria, that civil war is now part of that demilitarised zone that UN troops have been monitoring,” Mr Coveney said.

“There are always levels of risk connected with peacekeeping missions but there are also unacceptable levels of risk and we expect that the UN, after a full review and reevaluation of the UNDOF mission, will respond to the new realities on the ground if they want to keep the mission there.”

The view was echoed by the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces who said preparations were continuing to deploy a replacement batch of soldiers to the zone within weeks.

However, Lieutenant General Conor O’Boyle, who dismissed reports that the Irish camp had come under direct fire, said the plans could change depending on the situation on the ground.

The unfolding situation in the Middle East is set to dominate today’s first Cabinet meeting since the recess with Mr Coveney, and Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan giving reports after conducting video calls with UN officials.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny also stated he did not want to see Irish soldiers become embroiled in the Syrian civil war. “The troops are there as part of a UN Mission with a particular mandate,” he said. “The reason I had a paragraph inserted in the conclusions of the European Council meeting on Saturday was that mandate should be respected.

“They are there because they are professionally trained with very high expertise. That said, you cannot stray from beyond the mandate of the United Nations into a situation where our troops will be dragged unfortunately into a civil war.”

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