U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused the Syrian government Monday of serious violations of the 1974 agreement that separated Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights and called on both countries to halt firing across the cease-fire line.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council, Ban said recent incidents across the cease-fire line have shown the potential for the escalation of Israeli-Syrian tensions and jeopardize the disengagement agreement and stability of the region which is already facing a spillover from the 19-month Syria conflict.
"I am concerned that the presence of armed members of the opposition and the ongoing military activities of the Syrian security forces have the potential to ignite a larger conflict between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic with grave consequences," Ban said. "There should be no military activity of any kind in the area of separation."
He said such activity poses a risk to the long-held cease-fire, to the local civilian population, and the U.N. personnel on the ground.
The U.N. chief recommended a six-month extension of the 1,036-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights, until June 30.
The U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, known as UNDOF, was established in 1974, following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, to monitor the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, and Syria wants the land returned in exchange for peace.
Since indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel ended in December 2008, there have been no negotiations and Ban said the current Syrian crisis further complicates efforts to reach a peace agreement.
But Ban stressed that the conflict does not absolve the Syrian government of its responsibility under international law to protect civilians.
He urged President Bashar Assad's regime to stop deploying troops and military equipment in the disputed zone.
The secretary-general cited several incidents of Syrian shelling across the line into Israel, and Israeli retaliation. Syrian army firing has at times come close to U.N. personnel and facilities, he said.
Since July, Ban said, there were also numerous clashes between Syrian security forces and opposition fighters in the disengagement zone, two involving about 1,760 Syrian security personnel, including soldiers.
On Sept. 29, he said, UNDOF saw nine Syrian security forces personnel killed by 13 armed members of the opposition during an ambush inside the area of separation.
"Within this increasingly challenging operational environment, UNDOF supervised the area of separation through manning fixed positions and patrols to ensure that military forces of either party were excluded from it," Ban said.
To ensure safety, he said, UNDOF has adopted a number of security measures including limiting movements and using alternate routes, limiting mobile operations when warranted, requiring at least two people in a car, and using armored vehicles in sensitive areas.
In addition to facilitating the crossing of 137 students, one bride and seven people for humanitarian reasons since July, UNDOF provided medical treatment to 245 civilians and with the International Committee of the Red Cross facilitated the return of four Syrian civilians who allegedly crossed the cease-fire line and were detained by the Israeli military.