Syrian army forces have reclaimed the Syrian Golan Heights crossing from rebel control on Thursday. United Nations Peacekeepers from Austria have been recalled from observation duties following the clash.
This push from Assad’s forces, backed by Hezbollah militants, comes just days after a successful move to recapture the key southern town of Qusair. Rebel forced had occupied the city as an important stronghold for nearly a year but lost it to Loyalist forces earlier this week after a successful siege.
As Syrian rebels make threats of retaliation and stage small hit-and-run attacks, it is clear they are beginning to feel the pressure, especially as militant Hezbollah fighters have begun supporting Assad in greater force.
Reports suggest the Syrian army’s victory in recapturing Qusair from rebel forces proved to be not only a major strategic victory but a psychological one as well, giving momentum to the assault on the Golan Heights crossing.
After a full day of indecisive fighting and multiple claims to victory, Syrian army tanks and armored transports filed across the region and nearby town of Quneitra. Fighting died down as rebel forces began to withdraw in the evening.
As the clash continued throughout the day two UN peacekeepers were reportedly injured. This prompted Austria to withdraw their UN observers, stating that the threat had “reached an unacceptable level.”
One third of the more than 900 UN peacekeepers observing in the Golan Heights crossing area and Quneitra are provided by Austria. Officials at the UN have stated that Austria’s decision will disrupt their mission in the region and are seeking other nations to volunteer replacement observers.
After recent confirmations from France that sarin gas was used multiple times in Syria, pressure has been on Western nations to respond.
The recapture of the Golan Heights crossing by Syrian army forces is significant strategically and morally, potentially turning a conflict which seemed to be approaching stalemate toward Assad’s favor.