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Putin volunteers Russian soldiers for Golan Heights

By United Press International   |   June 7, 2013 at 2:39 PM   |   Comments

Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday offered Russian replacements for the peacekeeping force Austria wants to withdraw from the Golan Heights.

Austria said it was concerned about the safety of its 370 soldiers because the conflict in Syria has spread to a strategic border crossing. Security conditions have deteriorated in the area around the U.N. Golan Heights headquarters since the Quneitra crossing became the site of a clash between Syrian and rebel forces, CNN reported Friday.

Austria's announcement it will remove its soldiers slashes the number of U.N. troops in the Golan Heights by one-third.

Filipino and Indian peacekeepers will remain and the United Nations may bring in troops from other nations, U.N. spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero said.

Putin told a meeting of top Russian military officers in Moscow the United Nations has asked Russia to make a larger contribution to its peacekeeping efforts and he is ready and willing to replace the Austrians.

"Naturally, that will happen only if the regional powers show interest in our proposal and if the U.N. secretary-general asks us to do that," Putin said.

Syrian tanks crossed into a demilitarized zone Friday and two U.N. peacekeepers were wounded when a mortar shell fell near the U.N. base, Israeli officials said.

Syrian rebels briefly took control Thursday of the Quneitra crossing, the only route between Israel and Syria, The New York Times reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday Western support for the Syrian opposition will only fuel violence in the country.

"We are disturbed by statements coming from leaders of the so-called Free Syrian Army as well as from some U.S, representatives, to the effect that support for the armed opposition will continue in order to restore the military balance on the ground. That is a road to nowhere," Lavrov said.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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