The United Nations said Thursday that 43 of its peacekeepers on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights had been detained by Syrian rebels. The specific group of armed Syrian rebels detaining the peacekeepers has not been released at this time.
The Associated Press reports via Haaretz, that another 81 UN peacekeepers have been trapped in their current locations. UN officials said, “”currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah.” The detaining came during a period of increased fighting and turmoil in the area between the rebels and the Syrian Arab Armed Forces. Armed forced captured a Golan Heights crossing point during the time of fighting.
The LA Times notes that U.N. troops have been monitoring the buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights since 1974. As of July 31, 1,223 peacekeepers from six countries are in the region monitoring the situation. A UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told the Associated press that the 43 detained peacekeepers are from Fiji and are thought to be in the southern part of the area of separation. The 81 troops from the Philippines had their movements restricted.
This is not the first time that UN peacekeepers have been captured while doing work in Syria. In May 2013, four peacekeepers were held by Syrian opposition forces. They were released five days later. Some peacekeepers were also captured in March of 2013 and were also released a few short days later. However, that does not mean that the UN is expecting a swift release or is not concerned about the situation.
The UN statement about the incident says,
“The situation is extremely fluid. Obviously, we are very concerned. The United Nations is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers and to restore the full freedom of movement of the Force throughout its area of operation.”
Haaretz reports that some countries have already withdrawn from the region due to concerns over safety. In June 2013, Austria said it was withdrawing its 377 UN peacekeepers from the Golan Heights. Croatia also withdrew in 2013 amid fears its troops would be targeted. The Philippine government is following their lead and just last week said it would bring home its 331 peacekeeping forces from the Golan Heights after their tour of duty ends in October due to the deteriorating security in the region. After the latest capture, more countries may follow suit if the situation does not become more stable for those on the ground in the region.
[Photo Credit: UNDOF]