U.N. says 43 peacekeepers seized in Golan

Smoke rises on both sides of the line dividing the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria during fighting near the Quneitra border crossing August 27, 2014.

Smoke rises on both sides of the line dividing the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria during fighting near the Quneitra border crossing August 27, 2014.

The United Nations confirmed that an armed group captured 43 U.N. peacekeepers on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights on Thursday, saying it was doing everything to secure their release.

“Forty-three peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were detained early this morning by an armed group in the vicinity of Al Qunaytirah,” it said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Al-Qaeda’s Syria wing the Nusra Front and other Islamist fighters had taken control of a border crossing on the line dividing Syria from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The fighters, who have vowed to “liberate” the area, captured the Quneitra post on the Syrian side from forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad after fierce clashes, the activist group said. The organization gathers information from all sides in the Syrian war.

The crossing is monitored by UNDOF, which oversees traffic between the two enemy countries, but the distance between the two warring adversaries’ posts is some 200 meters (656 feet).

During the fighting, two Israelis were wounded by stray bullets, a soldier and a civilian, both in the Golan Heights. Israel responded with artillery fire at two Syrian army positions, the Israeli military said. It was the latest spillover of violence from the three-year conflict.

Shelling from the Syrian civil war has occasionally reached into the Israeli-controlled Golan, occasionally causing injuries and damage to soldiers and civilians. Israel has said the firing has sometimes been deliberately aimed at its troops.

Israel captured the western part of the strategic plateau from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed it, a move that is not internationally recognized.

While the Syrian army has a presence on the Golan, some areas are controlled by rebels fighting to topple Assad, including al-Qaeda-inspired militants hostile to the Jewish state.

Rebels last year briefly took the Quneitra border crossing with Israel and now control many villages in the area.

In early July, another Al-Qaeda off-shoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which controls roughly a third of Syria and is the strongest insurgent group in the war against Assad, swept into Iraq, taking control of swathes of territory.

 
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