UN peacekeepers 'held in Syria'
Published 28/08/2014 | 15:26
The United Nations says 43 peacekeepers have been detained by an armed group in Syria during fighting and 81 others are trapped.
The office of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says 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 statement says another 81 peacekeepers are "currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah".
The statement said the United Nations "is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers".
They are part of UNDOF, the mission that has been monitoring a 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war.
The statement noted that UNDOF peacekeepers who were detained by armed forces in March and May were later safely released.
Currently, six countries contribute troops to the force: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines.
The Syrian government denounced the "kidnapping" of the peacekeepers.
In a statement issued by the Syrian Foreign Ministry, the government said it holds "the terrorist groups and those who support them fully responsible for the safety of the UN peacekeepers, and calls for their immediate release".
Heavy fighting has engulfed the Syrian side of the Golan since yesterday, when rebels captured a crossing on the disputed frontier with Israel. A rebel spokesman said the opposition is focused on fighting President Bashar Assad, and poses no threat to Israel.
Today, government planes targeted several rebel positions in the area, including in the village of Jaba, the Observatory said. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, also reported the air raids.
The Observatory said heavy clashes were raging between the rebels and the Syrian military in Jaba and the surrounding countryside.
White plumes of smoke set off by exploding mortar rounds could be seen on Thursday from the Israeli side of the Golan. The sound of small arms fire could be heard echoing in the background.
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," he said.