Armed group detains 43 peacekeepers in Syria; 81 others trapped
Ryan Lucas and Zeina Karam, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, August 28, 2014 7:58AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 28, 2014 6:24PM EDT
An armed group detained 43 UN peacekeepers during fighting in Syria early Thursday and another 81 peacekeepers are trapped, the United Nations said.
The peacekeepers were detained on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights during a "period of increased fighting between armed elements and the Syrian Arab Armed Forces," the office of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. It said another 81 peacekeepers are "currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah."
The statement did not specify which armed group is holding the peacekeepers. Various Syrian rebel groups, including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, have been fighting the Syrian military near the Golan Heights. On Wednesday, opposition fighters captured a Golan Heights crossing point on the disputed border between Syria and Israel.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the 43 detained peacekeepers are from Fiji and are thought to be in the southern part of the area of separation. The 81 troops from the Philippines had their movements restricted.
"The situation is extremely fluid. Obviously, we are very concerned," Dujarric said.
The statement said the United Nations "is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers," who are part of UNDOF, the mission that has been monitoring a 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war.
In June, the UN Security Council strongly condemned the intense fighting between Syrian government and opposition fighters in the Golan Heights and demanded an end to all military activity in the area. Syrian mortars overshooting their target have repeatedly hit the Israeli-controlled Golan, and U.N. peacekeepers have been abducted.
Thursday's statement noted that UNDOF peacekeepers who were detained by armed forces in March and May were later safely released.
As of July, UNDOF has 1,223 troops from six countries: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines.
But the Philippine government last week said it would bring home its 331 peacekeeping forces from the Golan Heights after their tour of duty ends in October, amid the deteriorating security in the region.
In June 2013, Austria said it was withdrawing its 377 UN peacekeepers from the Golan Heights. Croatia also withdrew in 2013 amid fears its troops would be targeted.