Clash on Israeli-Syrian Border Worries Austria

Tel Aviv/Vienna - An exchange of artillery fire on the Syria-Israel border on the Golan Heights Friday prompted Austrian concerns about the safety of their UN observer troops.

According to the Israeli army, Israeli soldiers were fired on out of Syria with artillery and light weapons. Israeli artillery responded by firing on and hitting the source of the attack.

The identity of the attackers was unknown. There were no injuries on the Israel side.

The clash came just hours after Austrian Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger had visited the Austrian contingent of the UN observer troops. The 370-strong contingent makes up about one-third of the UN observer mission.

Spindelegger warned that the further contribution of Austrian troops would be "hard to imagine" if the weapons embargo against Syria were lifted.

The Syria-Israel border has seen increasing numbers of clashes since the end of last year. The UN observer mission is increasingly endangered by the internal civil conflict in Syria. Before the Syrian rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad began two years ago, the border had been mostly quiet since the Yom Kippur war in 1973.

The UN troops are supervising the ceasefire along the demilitarized zone along the border. But for months, regular Syrian troops as well as rebel troops have pushed into the zone.

In Israel, the possibility of an Austrian withdrawal is seen with concern, according to media reports. If Austria pulls out, it could mean the end of the observer mission and result in the opening of the border to unhindered access by Syrian fighters.

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