Thursday, 28 August 2014 09:59
A group of 43 United Nations peacekeepers in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights have been detained by gunmen fighting the Syrian army, the organisation has said, adding that it is working to secure their release.
The detained peacekeepers are from the Philippines and Fiji, an unidentified UN official told Reuters news agency on Thursday.
“During a period of increased fighting beginning yesterday between armed elements and Syrian Arab Armed Forces within the area of separation in the Golan Heights, 43 peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were detained early this morning by an armed group in the vicinity of al-Qunaytirah,” the UN press office said in a statement.
It added that another 81 UNDOF peacekeepers were being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah.
“The United Nations is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers, and to restore the full freedom of movement of the force throughout its area of operation.”
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in a 1967 war, and the countries technically remain at war. Syrian troops are not allowed in an area of separation under a 1973 ceasefire formalised in 1974.
UNDOF monitors the area of separation, a narrow strip of land running 70km from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan. There are 1,223 UNDOF peacekeepers from six countries.
The force’s personnel come from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines. The United Nations said this week that the Philippines had decided to pull out of UNDOF and another UN force in Liberia, which is struggling with the deadly Ebola virus.
Blue-helmeted UN troops have been seized by fighters several times during the Syrian civil war, now in its fourth year. In all those cases they were released safely.