Two UN peacekeepers killed in Golan Heights
Two UN troops were injured in shelling in the Golan Heights ceasefire area between Israel and Syria, a UN spokesperson said Thursday, as Syrian government forces regained control of a strategic crossing from the rebels.
“The Syrian army has recovered control of the crossing,” an Israeli security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP. Earlier reports said that the rebels were able to take over the strategic crossing point.
The clashes took place at the Al-Quneitra crossing near the headquarters of a UN peacekeeping force, reported AFP.
“The two suffered minor injuries from the fallout of heavy weapons fire in the area,” Kieran Dwyer told AFP. However, the report added that it was still not clear whether the shelling was a Syrian regime move to try and regain control of a Golan crossing point from the armed opposition.
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels battled to control the strategic crossing of Al-Quneitra.
In response to the skirmishes the Israeli army has deployed tanks to the border with Syria. The United Nations confirmed “incidents” have been taking place along the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire line.
“Yes there was shooting,” Herve Ladsous told reporters during a visit to Paris, adding the UN would maintain its involvement in the nearby Golan Heights region, reported Reuters.
The development is likely to deepen Israel’s concerns that the volatile area in the north along the Israel-Syria frontier could fall into the hands of radical Islamic factions fighting along with other insurgent groups in Syria against Assad's forces, according to AP.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had said it was the first time rebels seized a border crossing next to the Israeli occupied area.
Israel is worried that the Golan, which was taken back from Syria in 1967, will become a place where attacks on Israelis will be launched by jihadist fighters, who are taking part in the armed struggle against Assad.
“The rebels have seized the crossing near the old city of Al-Quneitra in the occupied Golan Heights,” said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory, according to Reuters. “There are heavy explosions and fierce clashing ongoing in the area.”
In May, the Israeli military chief issued a stern warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying the Syrian leader would “bear the consequences” if any more attacks on Israeli forces near the Syrian border occurred.
The Golan Heights have been tense since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, which kicked off with peaceful protests at least two years ago.
However, there have been only minor flare-ups in the region to date, with Syrian shells crashing in the occupied Golan and Israel firing in retaliation.