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UN Security Council renews Golan peacekeepers amid Syrian war

United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping soldiers from Austria drive past an observation tower near the Quneitra border crossing between Israel an
United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping soldiers from Austria drive past an observation tower near the Quneitra border crossing between Israel an

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council renewed for six months on Thursday a peacekeeping mission in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights monitoring a decades-old truce between Israel and Syria that has been shaken by a spillover of violence from Syria's civil war.

The unanimously agreed resolution stresses the need for the peacekeepers, who currently just carry handguns, to boost their protection. Diplomats said troops would likely now get equipment such as flak jackets, armored vehicles and machine guns.

The United Nations also plans to increase the force, which is known as UNDOF and has been operating with about 900 troops, to its authorized strength of 1,250.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in a 1967 war, and the countries technically remain at war. Syrian troops are not allowed in an area of separation under a 1973 ceasefire formalized in 1974.

UNDOF monitors the area of separation, a narrow strip of land running 45 miles from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan.

The Security Council resolution "stresses the need to enhance the safety and security of UNDOF" and endorses recommendation of "further adjustments to the posture and operations of the mission, as well as to implement additional mitigation measures to enhance the self-defense capabilities."

Peacekeepers have been caught in the middle of fighting between Syrian troops and rebels in the area of separation, which had been largely quiet since the ceasefire. Stray shells and bullets also have landed on the Israeli-controlled side and Israeli troops have fired into Syria in response.

Syria's conflict started more than two years ago with mainly peaceful demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad, but descended into a civil war in which the United Nations says at least 90,000 people have been killed.

Earlier this month two U.N. peacekeepers were wounded when Syrian rebels captured a Golan border post, but were then driven out by Syrian troops. Rebels have detained peacekeepers on several different occasions before releasing them.

Japan and Croatia already have withdrawn troops from UNDOF due to the violence and Austria has started bringing home its contingent of some 380 troops. About 500 Fijian troops will fill the gap, while the United Nations is still in talks with various countries to find several hundred more troops to join the force.

The Philippines already has some 340 troops in UNDOF along with nearly 200 troops from India.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Vicki Allen and Bill Trott)

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