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Russia can replace Austria in U.N. Golan monitoring force: Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during International Drug Enforcement Conference in Moscow June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during International Drug Enforcement Conference in Moscow June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia is ready to replace peacekeepers from Austria in the Golan Heights, President Vladimir Putin said on Friday, after Vienna said it would recall its troops from a U.N. monitoring force due to worsening fighting in Syria.

Austria, whose peacekeepers account for about 380 of the 1,000-strong U.N. force observing a four-decade-old ceasefire between Syria and Israel, said it would pull out after intense clashes between Syrian government forces and rebels on the border.

"Given the complicated situation in the Golan Heights, we could replace the leaving Austrian contingent in this region on the border between Israeli troops and the Syrian army," Putin said at a televised meeting with Russian military officers.

"But this will happen, of course, only if the regional powers show interest, and if the U.N. secretary general asks us to do so," he said.

Russia, a long-time ally and arms supplier to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been trying along with Western powers to bring the warring sides in Syria together into talks on a solution to the more than two-year-old conflict.

The U.N. Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss the Austrian withdrawal after anti-Assad rebels briefly seized the crossing between Israel and Syria, sending U.N. staff scurrying to bunkers before Syrian soldiers managed to push them back.

(This story was refiled to amend time reference in lede paragraph to Friday)

(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel, Editing by Thomas Grove/Mark Heinrich)

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