Austria has launched a probe into whether its UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights allowed Syrian police to drive into a deadly ambush launched by smugglers in 2012. Local media was told their behavior was “100% correct.”
The probe was opened after a video of the incident was published by the Austrian weekly Der Falter. The outlet says it received the video along with photos from “a whistleblower.” The footage is said to show Syrian smugglers setting up an ambush behind rocks. One hour later, officers from what is described by the outlet as Syrian “secret police” arrive and the UN peacekeepers have a chat with them.
A little while later, the Syrians are let through without being warned about the trap. One Austrian peacekeeper can even be heard telling the other: “You should really tell them.”
“Just wave while you still can,” one says. The incident then turns fatal, with nine policemen being shot and killed by the smugglers with no chance to escape on the open terrain.
“One has already fallen over,” one of the peacekeepers says. “Nobody survived that.”
Responding to that, one says he believes an officer is still alive. “Yes, but that one will not survive,” another says.
The Austrian Defense Ministry has launched an investigation into the matter, starting on Saturday. “As a first step all reports, orders, laws, and regulations that could be relevant for the inquiry are being collected, examined, and evaluated,” ministry spokesman Michael Bauer tweeted, adding that the UN is invited to work alongside Vienna.
A UN spokesperson called the video “disturbing,” saying that the organization will be following up on the incident and cooperating with Austrian authorities, the Austrian Press Agency reported. He also said the incident was reported to the UN Security Council and included in a UN report.
Meanwhile, an Austrian soldier who served as a UN peacekeeper in the Golan Heights told the Salzburger Nachrichten that the behavior seen in the video was “100 percent correct according to our mandate.”
“The order is: dont get involved,” said the soldier, identified by the newspaper as Markus H.
The incident occurred at a time of increased instability along the armistice line in the Golan Heights, an area seized by Israel from Syria in 1967. It was largely quiet for decades until the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. Austria withdrew its peacekeepers from the area in 2013, citing worsening security.
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