On 14 May 1948, when the British mandate in Palestine ceased, Israel declared itself to be a free and independent state. The surrounding Arab countries immediately declared war on Israel. In response, the United Nations (UN) Security Council appointed a team of military observers. On 19 May 1948, the UN mediator already in Palestine, Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden, was appointed to head the group. This team, which was the first UN peacekeeping organization, later became known as the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). Because of the urgency of the situation, the initial contingent of observers was provided from among the military attachés of foreign diplomatic missions in Palestine. One of these attachés, Commandant René de Labarrière of France, became the first UN peacekeeper to lose his life in the line of duty. He was killed on 6 July 1948 when the jeep he was driving hit a mine. After he had completed his report to the Security Council, Count Bernadotte himself became a casualty. Israeli terrorists assassinated him in Jerusalem on 17 September 1948. His chief of staff took over his functions as commander but did not take on the title. Indeed, out of respect for Count Bernadotte, UNTSO, to this day, has only a chief of staff and not a commander. Canada did not have a diplomatic mission in Palestine in 1948 and therefore did not participate in this initial phase of UNTSO activities.
In January 1949, Israel signed armistice agreements with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The United Nations Security Council established the UN Truce Supervision Organization out of Count Bernadotte's original group of military observers. UNTSO's role was to supervise the new ceasefire and subsequent armistice agreements.
The strength of the UNTSO contingent in 1949 was 50 officers from various member states, including Canada. However, after constant violations of the armistice agreements by both sides, the Security Council increased the size of the UN contingent and appointed a Canadian, General E.L.M. Burns, as chief of staff of UNTSO in February 1954.
UNTSO currently continues its operations in the Middle East. Since its establishment in 1948, three major Arab-Israeli wars-1956, 1967, and 1973-as well as the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 have taken place. Consequently, UNTSO personnel have endured hazardous conditions. On 26 May 1958, Jordanian sniper fire claimed the life of a Canadian officer, Lieutenant-Colonel George A. Flint of the Royal Canadian Artillery Corps. Canada is still an active participant.