Expected Council Action
In June, the Council is expected to extend for six months the mandate of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which expires on 30 June. Ahead of the mandate renewal, the Department of Peace Operations (DPO) is expected to brief Council members in closed consultations on the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day report on UNDOF, due on 22 June, and the most recent developments.
Key Recent Developments
The Secretary-General’s most recent report on UNDOF’s activities, dated 16 March, noted that the ceasefire between Israel and Syria generally held during the reporting period of 21 November 2022 to 20 February. However, it also said that violations of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement persisted, observing that the overall security situation in UNDOF’s area of operations remained volatile and raising concerns about the safety and security of the military and civilian personnel of UNDOF and Observer Group Golan (OGG), which is comprised of military observers from the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). As such, the Secretary-General “urge[d] the parties to the Agreement to exercise utmost restraint and comply with the Agreement”.
The report added that UNDOF maintained its assessment that UN personnel in its area of operations faced a significant threat from explosive remnants of war, including unexploded ordnance and mines and a probable threat from the possible presence of sleeper cells of armed groups. It further observed that although the security situation in the northern and central parts of UNDOF’s area of operations on the Bravo side (Syrian Golan) generally remained calm, the southern sector continued to be volatile, with security incidents reportedly occurring in locations within the area of limitation, including along UNDOF patrol routes in Dara‘a Governorate.
The Secretary-General’s upcoming report is expected to focus on the continued violations of the disengagement agreement, especially firing from the Israeli side over the ceasefire line, the presence of Syrian forces in the area of separation, and the existence of unauthorised weapons in the limitation area. Moreover, the report is expected to focus on the volatile situation in the region, especially the southern part of the area of limitation on the Bravo side.
The region has witnessed several notable developments over the past couple of months. On 9 April, the Israeli forces conducted artillery and drone strikes in Syria, followed by airstrikes targeting a Syrian army compound, radar systems, and artillery positions. The 9 April airstrikes came as a response to the rockets launched towards northern Israel from Syrian territory earlier that day. According to a 9 April Al Jazeera article, the al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, claimed responsibility for the rockets launched from Syrian territory.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Israeli ground forces bombarded a position on the outskirts of Quneitra on 24 April, allegedly targeting Hezbollah-linked militias. On 18 April, Israel had launched strikes in the same region targeting Iran-backed groups.
In a 7 March press release, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Micheál Martin announced that the Irish Defence Forces infantry group of approximately 130 personnel would be withdrawn from UNDOF. The press release noted that this decision followed the conclusion of an assessment of the sustainability of the defence forces’ overseas commitments. It added that the decision ensures that the defence forces have the capacity to fulfil their commitment to the EU Battlegroup 2024/2025 (this comprises multinational military units which form a part of the EU’s military rapid reaction capacity to respond to emerging crises and conflicts around the world), allow the forces to consolidate their overseas commitments and prepare for future peacekeeping missions. The press release said the withdrawal date will be finalised after discussion with DPO.
Key Issues and Options
A key priority for the Council in June is the renewal of UNDOF’s mandate. A related issue is ensuring that UNDOF personnel are equipped with the necessary resources to fulfil the mission’s mandate, along with maintaining the safety and security of peacekeeping personnel.
An important issue, which is described in the Secretary-General’s 16 March report, is the constraints on the movement of UNDOF personnel, which have affected their operational and administrative activities.
During this month’s consultations, Council members may inquire about the challenges on the ground regarding UNDOF’s work and any difficulties the mission faces in carrying out its mandate. They may also be interested in more information from the DPO briefer on progress on UNDOF’s return to the Bravo side. The military observers of the OGG had to vacate the observation posts in 2014 owing to the deteriorating security situation in Syria.
Another issue for Council members is the ongoing violations of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement. Members may consider pursuing a press or presidential statement urging parties to adhere to their commitments under the agreement while expressing concern about the risk of escalation resulting from these violations and the potential danger they pose to the safety of peacekeepers.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 52nd session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) heard from Christian Salazar Volkmann, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), who presented the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Israeli settlements in the occupied Syrian Golan (A/HRC/52/76). Among other issues, the report analysed developments regarding settlement advancement between 2012 and 2022. According to the report, Israel’s plan to double the settler population in the Golan by 2027 and to increase the number of settlements was “unprecedented”. The report underscored that seizing lands for settlements and military zones limited the Syrian population’s access to land and water, directly violating their rights to housing, food, and health. In his statement, Volkmann said that some of the recommendations contained in the report—including the call on Israel to cease and reverse settlement activities in accordance with relevant UN resolutions—would make an “immediate difference”.
The unanimous adoption of resolution 2671 on 22 December 2022, which reauthorised UNDOF’s mandate for six months, illustrated that the Council remains united in its view that UNDOF plays an important role in regional stability. There was little disagreement among Council members during the negotiations, which were apparently straightforward. Some Council members believe that the situation has turned into a protracted conflict owing to continued violations of the disengagement agreement by both sides.
Despite deep divisions in the Council regarding the Syria file and opposing positions held by the co-penholders on UNDOF, Russia and the US, about who holds sovereignty over the Golan, the two countries continue to consider UNDOF as a separate issue on which they agree. This arrangement has enabled close engagement with the parties on the ground. It seems that the antagonism between Russia and the US over the conflict in Ukraine has not affected their work on UNDOF; the difficult dynamics witnessed on other Council files were not evident during the negotiations on UNDOF’s mandate in December 2022.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UNDOF
|Security Council Resolutions
|22 December 2022S/RES/2671
|This was the resolution renewing UNDOF’s mandate for six months.
|16 March 2023S/2023/203
|This was the Secretary-General’s 90-day UNDOF report.