JERUSALEM — Israeli officials said Sunday they are watching the Syrian border in the Golan Heights area with growing concern after the reported release of four United Nations soldiers held by Syrian rebels for five days.
The Israeli fear is that a deteriorating security situation will prompt countries to pull out their troops, leaving no buffer between Israeli and Syrian forces.
The officials said Croatian and Japanese troops have already left and they fear Filipinos and Austrians may be next. The four seized last week were Filipinos.
“We want them to stay,’’ said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
“They can’t prevent the war in Syria but they have an important role to play. If they disappear, it will just be Israel facing whatever or whoever is on the other side.”
Israel is also concerned about possible pullouts by U.N. troops monitoring the Lebanese border, where Hezbollah fighters have been reasserting themselves, according to Israeli media reports.
Palmor said U.N. engagement on both frontiers is vital to monitoring international cease-fire agreements and mediating between enemy states.
U.N. officials say the border between Lebanon and Israel has been relatively quiet lately, despite the fighting in nearby Syria.
A Syrian rebel group, the Yarmouk Martrys Brigade, said the four Filipinos had been held for their own safety during shelling and fighting between Syrian troops and rebels fighting to oust the government of President Bashar Assad.
The group reportedly said the four had been freed at the Israel border. The four were released unharmed, according to statements by military authorities in Manila, the Philippines capital.
The Israeli military said late Sunday that the freed troops had not come into Israel and that it had no information about their whereabouts.