Russia offers peacekeepers for Golan Heights


07:30 AM June 8th, 2013

June 8th, 2013 07:30 AM

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Friday, June 7, 2013. AP Photo

MOSCOW— President Vladimir Putin offered on Friday to send Russian troops to the Golan Heights to replace the Austrians who are withdrawing from the U.N. peacekeeping force that monitors the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces.

“Naturally, that will happen only if the regional powers show interest in our proposal and if the U.N. secretary-general asks us to do that,” Putin said, adding that Ban Ki-moon had personally asked him to increase Russia’s participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations during a visit to Russia last month.

Putin’s offer was quickly turned down, however, by Josephine Guerrero, a spokeswoman for the U.N. peacekeeping department. She said that while the offer was appreciated, the disengagement agreement does not allow the participation of troops from a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

Austria announced Thursday that it is withdrawing 377 U.N. peacekeepers from the Golan Heights after Syrian rebels briefly overran a crossing point near the border with Israel.

The United Nations is urgently looking for troops to replace the Austrians, who made up a sizeable portion of the 911-member peacekeeping force. The Philippines and India also contribute troops.

Israel has expressed concern about the security of the crossing point on the demilitarized area on the plateau that Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

The Kremlin said Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed Syria during a telephone conversation on Friday. No details were given.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke with Ban about Syria, including the escalation of tensions on the Golan Heights, the ministry said.

The U.N. Security Council planned to discuss the peacekeeping mission later Friday.

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