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Security deterioration: UN peacekeepers pulling out from Golan Heights

JERUSALEM: UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights are pulling out from its positions and a camp on the Syrian side of the Syrian-Israeli border due to a severe deterioration of security in the region, the United Nations said on Monday.

The decision to pull some blue-helmeted troops back to the Israeli side of the Golan Heights comes after recent clashes between members of the UN mission, known as UNDOF, and al-Qaeda-linked militants. The skirmishes have been due to increasing spill-over from the three-year-old Syrian civil war.

“The situation in UNDOF on the Syrian side and the area of separation has deteriorated severely over the last several days,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

“Armed groups have made advances in the area of UNDOF positions, posing a direct threat to the safety and security of the UN peacekeepers along the ‘Bravo’ (Syrian) line and in Camp Faouar,” he said, adding that all UN personnel in those positions have been moved to the “Alpha” - or Israeli - side.

According to a diplomatic source, troops pulled back from positions 10, 16, 31 and 37. “UNDOF continues to use all available assets to carry out its mandated tasks in this exceptionally challenging environment,” Dujarric said.

There was no suggestion that UNDOF was shutting down. Late last month, 45 Fijian peacekeepers were kidnapped by members of the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, Islamist militants fighting the Syrian army. They were released last week. At the time the Fijians were abducted, 72 UNDOF Filipino peacekeepers were trapped by the militants, though they succeeded in escaping.