United Nations delays Irish troop deployment to Syria

Late night phone call from New York calls halt to Golan Heights mission

 Minister for Justice, Equality and  Defence Alan Shatter performed a ministerial review of troops yesterday in Cathal Brugha barracks. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter performed a ministerial review of troops yesterday in Cathal Brugha barracks. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Wed, Sep 4, 2013, 12:09

The deployment of Irish troops to war torn Syria due to get under way today has been delayed by at least two weeks, it has emerged.

The Irish Times understands that just hours before the first party of Irish troops was due to fly out, the United Nations in New York contacted the Defence Forces in Ireland and asked that they stand down the personnel.

“We’re looking at a delay of probably two and a half weeks for the advance party of 25 to 30 that was due to go first and then a week’s delay for the remainder (of the 115 personnel),” said one Defence source familiar with the issue.

“Delays have happened before in the area and it’s not completely unexpected but we would be still looking at having everyone on the ground by the end of the month.”

Other sources said the request late last night from New York to postpone the deployment arose because the required permits needed for Irish personnel and their equipment to cross the border from Lebanon into Syria have not been fully processed by the Syrians meaning crossing the border is not possible at this time.

The advance party was set to fly into Beirut, Lebanon, today and join up with their own and the UN’s equipment and vehicles, including MOWAG armoured personnel carriers, before moving in a convoy towards the Syrian border. They then planned to cross into the country and make their way by road to their post in the Golan Heights around three hours away.

The remainder of the troops was set to travel in about a fortnight and take the same route via Lebanon.

While the area traditionally presents complexities for UN staff in running their operations to fixed deadlines, especially when border crossings are involved, the civil war in Syria and the growing momentum for a mooted US intervention in the country have greatly increase sensitivities and volatility.

The Defence Forces currently has three personnel in the UN observer mission and sources familiar with their arrangements when travelling into Syria said they too were affected with delays.

“They would have only had their personal items, you wouldn’t have been talking about a large movement of personnel and military vehicles and so on, and even they had problems so with this larger group and the kit they will bring, a delay is probably not completely out of the blue,” said one source.

The 115 troops set to travel to the mission are from the 43rd Infantry Group and were reviewed pre-deployment by Minister for Justice and Defence yesterday at Cathal Brugha barracks, Rathmines, south Dublin.

Some of the equipment and vehicles that will be used by the Irish are owned by the Defence Forces and have been shipped to Lebanon ahead of the personnel while other equipment is owned by the UN and is already in the region.

The 115 troops are being deployed to Syria as part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). It was established in 1974 following the disengagement of Syrian and Israeli forces in the Golan Heights after the Yom Kippur war.

The UN mission, of which the Irish will be part, is responsible for the maintenance of a 75km separation area between Israeli and Syrian forces.

The Irish will stay in a long-establish camp with troops from other nationalities involved in the mission.

They will also conduct security and fact-finding patrols, some more than a week in duration, and will provide a rapid-response capability for UN personnel who find their safety compromised.

The civil war in Syria over the past two years and the possibility of military intervention by the US has destabilise the UNDOF area. Some nations that had been providing troops to the area have withdrawn, with the Republic agreeing to deploy troops to maintain numbers.

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