U.N. Council Backs Machine Guns for Golan Peacekeepers

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The U.N. Security Council on Thursday backed U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights carrying machine guns, as fallout from the Syria war increases in the ceasefire zone.

The council passed a resolution to extend the mandate of the force until the end of the year. It also called on Syrian government and opposition fighters to stay out of the zone where peacekeepers monitor a three-decade-old ceasefire between Syria and Israel.

The 15-member council strongly condemned three abductions of U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan since March and expressed "grave concern" at violations of the 1974 ceasefire accord.

Members of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) were kidnapped by different opposition groups between March and May.

Two peacekeepers have been wounded in shelling as President Bashar Assad's forces attack rebels in the ceasefire zone.

The council stressed the "need to enhance the safety and security" of peacekeepers, and endorsed U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon's changes to the mission's operations to "enhance the self-defense capabilities of UNDOF."

The council resolution did not set out the measures. But UN officials and diplomats say that UNDOF peacekeepers, who traditionally only carry very light arms, will get machine guns, extra body armor and more armored vehicles.

UNDOF has already halted night patrols in the Golan and it will close some observation posts and strengthen those that stay open.

Japan and Croatia have withdrawn their UNDOF contingents and Austria is pulling out its 377 troops by the end of July. That leaves about 340 Philippines troops and 190 Indians left in the force.

Fiji has started sending 500 troops which will get UNDOF back above 900 soldiers. But the U.N. peacekeeping department is looking for more to get it to 1,250.

Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, Security Council president for June, said the U.N. was negotiating with European countries, among others.

Diplomats said Scandinavian countries are considering sending troops to the Golan which had been relatively quiet until the Syrian conflict started in March 2011.

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