Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force for the period from 2 March to 16 May 2017 (S/2017/486) [EN/AR]

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I. Introduction

1. The present report gives an account of the activities of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) during the past three months, pursuant to the mandate contained in Security Council resolution 350 (1974) and extended in subsequent resolutions, most recently resolution 2330 (2016).

II. Situation in the area of operation and activities of the Force

2. During the reporting period, the ceasefire between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic was maintained, albeit in a volatile environment attributable to the ongoing conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic. This is notwithstanding a number of violations of the Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian Forces (Disengagement of Forces Agreement) of 1974, which are set out below. The Syrian Arab Armed Forces and non-State armed opposition groups engaged in exchanges of heavy weapon fire in the area of separation and the area of limitation on the Bravo side. Different armed groups, including the listed terrorist group Jabhat Fath al-Sham (formerly the Nusrah Front) and the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, which pledged allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), continued to exchange fire in the UNDOF area of operation. Inside the area of separation, the presence of the Syrian armed forces and military equipment, as well as any other armed personnel and military equipment other than that of UNDOF, is in violation of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement. As underscored again by the Security Council in its resolution 2330 (2016), there should be no military activity of any kind in the area of separation.

3. In employing its best efforts to maintain the ceasefire and see that it is scrupulously observed, as prescribed in the Disengagement of Forces Agreement, UNDOF reports all breaches of the ceasefire line that it observes. All incidents of firing into the area of separation and across the ceasefire line, as well as the crossing of the ceasefire line by individuals, are violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement. In his regular interaction with both sides, the Head of Mission and Force Commander of UNDOF continued to call upon both parties to exercise restraint and prevent any miscalculations that might lead to an escalation of the situation. This was particularly the case when responding to incidents of spillover and retaliatory fire.

4. Military activity across the ceasefire line increased during the reporting period. On 13 May, UNDOF observed three armed Israel Defense Forces personnel in a vehicle in the area of separation in the vicinity of the Mount Hermon complex, which constituted a violation of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement. Two of the Israel Defense Forces personnel left the vehicle for approximately 10 minutes, after which all personnel and the vehicle returned to the Alpha side (Israeli-occupied Golan).

5. There was one incident of spillover fire across the ceasefire line during the reporting period. On 21 April, United Nations personnel observed a high explosive impact approximately two kilometres north of United Nations position 22. An investigation team was allowed access to the site the following day, 22 April, by which time only basic evidence could be gathered. The evidence indicated that the impact was likely to have been caused by a round of 105 mm or 120 mm calibre from the Bravo side. UNDOF also observed that a M557 point detonating fuse was used.

6. According to Syrian officials, the Israel Defense Forces responded to the spillover fire with air strikes across the ceasefire line in the Khan Arnabeh region. UNDOF was unable to confirm the Israel Defense Forces air activity or firing across the ceasefire line. Syrian officials claimed that the Israeli retaliatory action halted an ongoing Syrian Arab Armed Forces military operation in the area of separation.

7. During the reporting period, open and government sources reported several additional alleged incidents of Israeli air strikes or air activity in the Syrian Arab Republic. UNDOF did not observe and is not able to verify the point of origin or point of impact of any of the reported air activity described below. On 17 March, open sources reported that Israel Defense Forces aircraft entered Syrian airspace and proceeded to strike targets in the general area of Tadmur (Palmyra); it was also reported that in response, anti-aircraft missiles were fired, with some media outlets suggested that an Israel Defense Forces aircraft was shot down. The Israel Defense Forces subsequently confirmed the operation but denied that one of their aircraft had been hit. It was also confirmed that the firing of anti-aircraft missiles had triggered an anti-rocket alert system in Israel. On 19 March, it was reported that an air strike killed an individual in Khan Arnabeh in the area of limitation on the Bravo side. Open sources reported that the strike was carried out by an Israel Defense Forces unmanned aerial vehicle. On 21 March, it was reported by open sources and confirmed by the Israel Defense Forces that an Israel Defense Forces unmanned aerial vehicle had been shot down in the Qunaytirah area. On 23 April, open sources reported an Israel Defense Forces strike at a Syrian National Defence Forces training camp approximately two kilometres from Camp Faouar that killed three individuals and wounded two others, reportedly in retaliation for spillover fire, that had occurred on 21 April. On 27 April, open sources reported that Damascus Airport had been the target of air strikes by the Israel Defense Forces. In all cases, it was reported by the media that the targets were Hizbullah or associated parties.