Two UN soldiers injured in mortar bomb attack on Golan Heights

Explosion was at Camp Ziouani where Irish peacekeeping troops are also based

Irish members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) sit on their armoured vehicles in the Golan Heights. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Two soldiers serving with the UN peacekeeping mission on the Golan Heights were wounded yesterday when a mortar bomb exploded at their base, Camp Ziouani.

The two, who are not Irish soldiers, were treated in an Israeli hospital for what were reported locally as moderate to light wounds apparently caused by flying glass.

Intense fighting has erupted between two rival anti-Syrian government factions which are operating one to three kilometres from Camp Ziouani, sources say. This is inside what is supposed to be a demilitarised zone policed and monitored by the UN mission, known as Undof.

Since the Syrian civil war intensified in the region last August, the zone has all but ceased to exist and is now a theatre of the conflict.

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Irish contingent

Camp Ziouani is home to UN soldiers from Ireland, Nepal, India, Fiji and the Netherlands. They are there to monitor the 1974 ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria. The 130-strong Irish contingent, the recently deployed 48th Infantry Group, is the Force Reserve Company, a quick reaction force (QRF) to be used should other UN personnel need help.

It is understood that in recent days, the Irish contingent has been used several times to assist colleagues as fighting within the zone has intensified close to UN positions. Inside Camp Ziouani, the danger has been assessed to serious enough for troops to be ordered into bunkers at short notice, a protective measure known to soldiers as “groundhog”.

Fighting

UN observation post number 51, a few kilometres southeast of Camp Ziouani, is understood to be very close to the fighting. It is currently staffed by three observers, including Comdt David Lavin of the Defence Forces, and has been in groundhog repeatedly in recent days.

On Friday, the Irish QRF was dispatched there when Comdt Lavin’s two colleagues, Capt Pertu Pohjola of Finland and Maj Fernando Aguilar, were wounded. Their injuries are not thought to have been serious but were of sufficient concern for them to be evacuated by the Irish troops.

Explaining recent events and yesterday’s mortar shrapnel, a Defence Forces source said UN troops were “literally caught in the crossfire”. OP51 was getting hit with debris “all the time”, said the source.

Events are being monitored closely by the Israeli Defence Forces who have a string of bases along the western flank of the zone, parallel to the UN positions.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times