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Golan Heights battles continue

September 1, 2014

Rebels continue to clash with Syrian troops in the Golan Heights. Al Qaeda-linked fighters took a border crossing to Israel from Syrian soldiers last week and are currently holding dozens of UN peacekeepers hostage.

Syrien Golanhöhen Rebellen Israel Gefechte
Image: Reuters

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Monday's battles had left fighters dead on both sides.

As the international comunity decides how to deal with the "Islamic State" elsewhere in Syria, heavy fighting has raged in and near the Golan Heights since the Nusra Front rebel faction captured a border crossing near the abandoned town of Quneitra on August 27 and seized some 44 Fijian peacekeepers, part of a UN mission that has monitored the ceasefire with Israel on the strategic plateau since 1974.

On Sunday, the United Nations had announced that the Fijians "continue to be detained by armed elements." The UN added: "At this time, no additional information on their status or location has been established. The United Nations continues to actively seek their immediate and unconditional release."

More than 70 Philippine peacekeepers surrounded by the rebels escaped over the weekend, but the UN mission remains on high alert.

Last year, rebel-affiliated groups detained peacekeepers twice before releasing them safely. Even before the latest incident, the Philippines had announced that it would repatriate its 331-strong contingent for security reasons, mirroring previous moves by Australia, Croatia and Japan. The UN Disengagement Observer Force currently has 1,200 peacekeepers from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands.

After the Syrian army fired across the border during fighting on the Golan Heights in June, killing a boy, Israel launched a series of retaliatory strikes.

mkg/slk (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)