Almost three dozen UN peacekeepers seized by a Syrian opposition force are being held by the armed militants near Al Qunaytirah, Syria. The 43 Fijian peacekeepers are part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) which operates in the demilitarized zone between the Golan Heights in Israel and neighboring Syria.
The UN peacekeepers were seized while serving in the Golan amid intensifying fighting between the Syrian Government forces and armed elements.
It’s not the first time that peacekeepers have been seized and detained. According to the UN, other groups of UN peacekeepers were seized in both March and May of 2013 and were returned safely.
An additional 81 peacekeepers are restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah.The UN Security Council demanded their immediate release.
The developments occurred after the only crossing between Israel and Syria was seized by rebel combatants, according to The Times of Israel. Rebel combatants linked to al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, a major group in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad were among those who seized the crossing.
“Al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups took the Quneitra crossing, and heavy fighting with the Syrian army is continuing in the surrounding area,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based NGO.
Syrian rebels put video footage of the captured border crossing online on Thursday as heavy strikes by the Syrian air force at the post were coming in, according to the Jerusalem Post. Rebels appeared to be within 200 meters of Israeli territory in the footage. Other footage shows rebel fighters firing at the Syrian government from the UN border post.
“During a period of increased fighting beginning yesterday between armed elements and Syrian Arab Armed Forces within the Area of Separation [between Israel and Syria] in the Golan Heights, 43 peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were detained early this morning by an armed group in the vicinity of Quneitra,” the UN press office said, according to reports from the Algemeiner.
UN peacekeepers who serve with UNDOF have been responsible for monitoring the region since a 1974 agreement between Syria and Israel. The UN Security Council extended the mission only through the end of December 2014.
There are currently 1,223 peacekeepers from six different countries, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands, and the Philippines serve in UNDOF. There is no word yet on when or how the UN peacekeepers seized this week might be returned.