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On 6 October 1973, war erupted in the Middle East between Egyptian and Israeli forces in the Suez Canal area and the Sinai, and between Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan. On 24 October, as fighting between Egypt and Israel reached a critical stage, the Security Council decided to set up a second United Nations Emergency Force II (UNEF II). The Force was immediately moved into place between the Israeli and Egyptian armies in the Suez Canal area, and its arrival effectively stabilized the situation. However, no new peacekeeping operation at that time was established on the Syrian front.

In the Israel-Syria sector tension remained high, and from March 1974 the situation became increasingly unstable. Against this background, the United States undertook a diplomatic initiative, which resulted in the conclusion of an Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian forces [S/11302/Add.1, annexes I and II] PDF Document. The Agreement provided for an area of separation and for two equal zones of limited forces and armaments on both sides of the area, and called for the establishment of a United Nations observer force to supervise its implementation. The Agreement was signed on 31 May 1974 and, on the same day, the Security Council adopted resolution 350 (1974) PDF Document by which it set up the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).

UNDOF Activities: 1974-2012

On 3 June 1974, the Secretary-General appointed an interim commander of UNDOF who arrived in Damascus on the same day and immediately established a provisional headquarters in the premises of the Israel-Syria Mixed Armistice Commission. Later the same day, advance parties of the Austrian and Peruvian contingents arrived in the mission area. They were joined on the following days by the remainder of the two contingents and the Canadian and Polish logistic elements. By 16 June 1974, the strength of UNDOF was brought to 1,218 all ranks, near its authorized level of 1,250.

In the following years, the Force performed its functions effectively, with the cooperation of the parties. The situation in the Israel-Syria sector remained generally quiet and both parties cooperated fully with the mission.

In order to carry out its mandate, UNDOF maintained an area of separation, which is over 75 kilometres (46.6 miles) long and varies in width between approximately 10 kilometres (6.21 miles) in the centre to 200 metres (0.12 miles) in the extreme south. The terrain is hilly and is dominated in the north by Mount Hermon, which is the location of the highest permanently manned United Nations position at an altitude of 2,814 metres (1,75 miles). The area of separation is inhabited. According to the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement, it is to be governed and policed by the Syrian authorities. No military forces other than UNDOF are permitted within it.

UNDOF was entirely deployed within and close to the area of separation, with two base camps, 20 permanently manned positions, eight outposts manned during daylight hours and eleven observation posts. With the assistance of the military observers from UNTSO's Observer Group Golan, UNDOF actively patrolled the area of separation by day and night. From its numerous positions and through patrolling, the Force supervised the area of separation and intervened whenever any military personnel enter or try to operate therein. This was accomplished using permanently manned positions and observation posts, foot and mobile patrols operating at irregular intervals by day and night, and closes contact and liaison with the host nations.

On each side of the area of separation there is an area of limitation with three zones; a zone of 0 to 10 kilometres (6.21 miles) from the area of separation, a zone of 10 (6.21 miles) to 20 kilometres (12.43 miles) from the area of separation, and a zone of 20 (12.43 miles) to 25 kilometres (15.53 miles) from the area of separation. UNDOF inspected these areas every two weeks in order to ascertain that the agreed limitations in armaments and forces are being observed within these areas of limitation.

UNDOF was also actively engaged in mine clearance activities and related public awareness programmes, and assisted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in facilitating the passage of mail, goods, and persons through the area of separation during special crossing events. Within the integral medical resources of UNDOF, medical treatment was provided to the local population on request.

UNDOF adjustments and strengthening

A considerable escalation of the conflict in Syria in 2013 has affected the UNDOF area of operations significantly. The military operations carried out by the Syrian Arab armed forces and the armed members of the opposition in the area of separation have adversely affected the efforts of the Force to effectively carry out the mandated tasks. They have also significantly raised the potential of escalating tensions between Israel and Syria and jeopardizing the decades-long ceasefire between the two countries and the stability of the whole region.

There has also been a rise in the nature, number and gravity of incidents involving United Nations personnel on the ground, including abductions of UNDOF and UNTSO observers, the direct and indirect firing at them by the Syrian Arab armed forces or armed members of the opposition, the theft of UN weapons and ammunition, vehicles and other assets, and the looting and destruction of facilities.

The growing safety risks led to the withdrawal in March of the Croatian contingent. On 6 June, the Government of Austria – a longstanding major troop-contributing country to UNDOF – also announced its decision to withdraw, essentially leaving India and the Philippines as the only remaining troop-contributors.

Reporting to the Security Council on 12 June PDF Document, the Secretary-General provided a detailed account of the deteriorating situation on the ground and ensuing implications for UNDOF. He stated in the report that the continued credible presence of the Force remained an important element in ensuring stability on the Golan and in the region and that it was essential that UNDOF continued to have at its disposal all the means and resources it needs to carry out its mandate safely and securely. The Secretary-General appealed to Member States to contribute troops to UNDOF to support United Nations efforts to enhance the capabilities of the Force.

At the same time, the Secretary-General recommended that given the evolving security situation in the UNDOF area of operation, the Security Council should consider adjustments to the posture and operations of the mission, as well as additional mitigation measures. These include enhancing the self-defence capabilities of UNDOF, including increasing the Force strength to about 1,250 and improving its self-defence equipment. He said that the support of the parties and the Security Council was critical as UNDOF continued to make these critical adjustments.

By its resolution 2108 of 27 June 2013, the Security Council stressed the obligation of both Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic to scrupulously observe the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement and abide by its terms. Underscoring that there should be no military forces in the area of separation, it also called on all parties to the Syrian domestic conflict to cease military actions in the UNDOF area of operation.

By other terms of the resolution, the Council stressed the need to enhance the safety and security of UNDOF personnel, and endorsed the Secretary-General’s recommendations to consider further adjustments to the posture and operations of the Force, as well as to implement additional mitigation measures to enhance its self-defence capabilities, including maximizing its strength and improving its self-defence equipment. The Council requested the Secretary-General to ensure that UNDOF has the required capacity and resources to fulfil the mandate, as well as to enhance the Force’s ability to do so in a safe and secure way.