Syria army retakes Golan Heights border crossing to Israel | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 06.06.2013
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Middle East

Syria army retakes Golan Heights border crossing to Israel

The Syrian army has reportedly retaken the only border crossing between Israel and Syria, after rebels had captured it earlier in the day. The crossing in the Golan Heights lies in a UN-controlled demilitarized zone.

Israeli and Syrian opposition sources said on Thursday that the Syrian army had recaptured the crossing at Quneitra from rebel forces.

A spokesman for the Austrian Defense Ministry had said earlier on Thursday that the border crossing at Quneitra was captured by Syrian rebels. Austrian soldiers make up 380 of the 1,000 UN peacekeepers who patrol the buffer zone between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights.

Colonel Michael Bauer said that the Austrian troops had withdrawn into their bunker during the fighting. Austrian Defense Minister Gerald Klug has cancelled all of other appointments to deal with situation.

Later on Thursday, the Austrian government said it was withdrawing its peacekeeping forces from the Golan Heights.

Israeli army radio also confirmed that the border crossing had been briefly captured. Israel has closed off the area and warned local farmers not to approach the crossing. An Israeli military spokeswoman told the Reuters news agency that two wounded Syrians had been taken in for treatment at an Israeli hospital. It's unclear whether they were government soldiers or rebel fighters.

Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and annexed it, a move not recognized by the international community. UN peacekeepers have patrolled the area since 1974, after Israel and Syria signed a ceasefire to end the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Syria violence spills into Lebanon

The fighting at the border crossing comes a day after the Syrian government captured the town of Qusair from the rebels, after a 17-day assault. Qusair lies on a strategic road connecting Damascus to the Mediterranean Coast. It is also near the Lebanese border.

The Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah intervened in the fighting there, helping Syrian forces capture the town. The United States condemned the assault and Hezbollah's role in it.

"The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the Assad regime's assault on Qusair, which has killed untold numbers of civilians and is causing tremendous humanitarian suffering," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a press release.

"It is clear that the regime could not contest the opposition's control of Qusair on its own, and is depending upon Hezbollah and Iran to do its work for it in Qusair," Carney said.

Meanwhile, the violence in Syria has continued to spill over into Lebanon. At least 11 rockets were fired from Syria into Lebanon, hitting the town of Baalbeck in the district of Sharawneh. The area is known to be home to backers of Hezbollah.

The rocket fire came after Syrian government warplanes bombed areas in Arsaal in eastern Lebanon.

Two gunmen were also killed near a Lebanese army checkpoint, not far from Qusair. A security source told the Reuters news agency that one of the dead gunmen was a Syrian national while the second man had no identification on him.

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