Syrian rebels have taken UN personnel prisoner after they took over the area near the Quneitra border crossing on the Golan Heights. The UN personnel were stationed on the Syrian side of the border.
The UN later confirmed the initial reports of the incident, clarifying the 43 UN peacekeepers from Fiji had been taken and that it is doing all it can to secure their release, reports AFP.
"Forty-three peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were detained early this morning by an armed group in the vicinity of Al Qunaytirah (Quneitra)," the UN said in a statement.
The "armed group" of Syrian rebels reportedly includes fighters from the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front. Indeed, pictures from the border show rebel forces setting black Al Qaeda flags on the Syrian side of the barrier.
An additional 81 peacekeepers from the Philippines are "currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah," added the statement.
Six countries are part of the force of 1,200 located at the site, including Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines.
Twice last year UN peacekeepers were detained last year and safely released, noted UN officials, adding "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."
Syrian officials said that they had managed to wrest control of the village of Jabber, near Quneitra, which had previously been held by the rebels. Fierce battles are said to be taking place in the area. Earlier, Syrian jets shelled rebel positions near a border crossing close to the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, rebels and residents told Reuters overnight Wednesday.
Al-Qaeda's Syria wing, the Al-Nusra Front, alongside other Islamist rebel groups who had launched the attack early on Wednesday on the border post were "holding ground" despite the heavy bombardment, according to a source in the Islamist Beit al Maqdis brigade, whose fighters were involved in the fighting.
Rebel takeover of Quneitra: