Ireland’s Minister for Defence is to reconsider the role of Irish troops in the UN peacekeeping force in Syria after a daring rescue mission in the Golan Heights.
Minister Simon Coveney has confirmed he will consider pulling the Irish soldiers out of Syria after recent developments.
Praising the Irish troops for their part in the rescue of 35 Filipino soldiers held captive by Syrian rebels, the Fine Gael Minister vowed to assess their peacekeeping role in the troubled region.
The Irish Quick Reaction Force led the Filipino troops to safety after they were surrounded by up to 300 armed rebels at the Breiqa encampment.
There are currently 130 Irish soldiers in Syria as part of the 1,200-strong UN Disengagement Observation Force in the Golan Heights.
Coveney is awaiting a full report from the United Nations before deciding on the future of the Irish peacekeeping force’s involvement in Syria.
He told the Irish Times: “I’m not going to send Irish soldiers on peace keeping missions that involve them getting dragged into a very bitter and very nasty civil war which is what has been happening in the last few days.
“There needs to be a full evaluation of what happened and the response of the UN, and then of course decisions need to be made that reduce the likelihood of something like this happening again.”
UN troops have been in the Golan Heights since 1974 and form a peaceful buffer and demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel.
Syria’s civil war has spilled into the area in recent weeks and Minister Coveney admitted that ‘tensions are high’ of late.
Some 43 UN peacekeepers from Fiji have been held captive by rebels since August 28th with negotiations ongoing to secure their release.
A spokesman for the Irish Defence Forces spokesman said the 44th Infantry Group remains on high alert.
He added: “They are prepared for further taskings from the Force Commander.”
Minster Coveney added: “The Irish troops there have come through a very difficult three days. We are extremely proud of them.
“They performed with real courage and professionalism doing a very difficult job in a very sensitive mission and they have done it really well.
“Not only have they protected themselves they have also done a lot to protect other UN soldiers, particularly getting Filipino soldiers out of a post that had been surrounded and was under attack.
“These Irish soldiers are the best armed and the best trained on the UN mission and the immediate danger for them has now passed.
“Once negotiations to try and secure the release of the 43 Fijian peace keepers are complete, we will be insisting on a full re-evaluation and a discussion around whether or not the mission can continue in a different guise, given the complexities of the civil war in Syria.
“The Irish Government would have to be satisfied that this could be done in a way that guarantees an acceptable level of risk as opposed to what we have seen in the last two days.
“When you have UN posts being directly attacked within a country and within an area that is supposed to be a demilitarized zone well then there are real problems with that and so if Irish troops are to remain part of a mission between Israel and Syria then there will have to be a full re-evaluation by the UN.”