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Austria to pull peacekeepers from Golan Heights

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria will withdraw its peacekeepers from the U.N. monitoring force on the Golan Heights given worsening fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels, it said on Thursday.

Austrians account for about 380 of the 1,000-strong U.N. force monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and Israel, and their departure will deal a serious blow to the mission.

"Freedom of movement in the area de facto no longer exists. The uncontrolled and immediate danger to Austrian soldiers has risen to an unacceptable level," Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and his deputy Michael Spindelegger said in a joint statement.

It came hours after Syrian rebels seized a U.N.-manned border crossing linking Syria and Israel on Thursday. Israeli security sources later reported Syrian troops had retaken it after heavy fighting.

"This morning's developments show that a further delay (in pulling out soldiers) is no longer justifiable," the Austrian statement said.

Austria's defense ministry was in contact with the United Nations' department of peacekeeping operations "to create the conditions for an orderly withdrawal of Austrian peacekeepers", it added.

(Reporting by Michael Shields and Fredrik Dahl; editing by Mike Collett-White)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130607/austria-pull-peacekeepers-golan-heights