United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday “strongly condemned” the kidnapping of 43 peacekeepers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights, and called for their immediate release.
In a statement, Ban also condemned the restriction of movement of UNDOF peacekeepers by armed elements of the opposition in two positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah.
“He calls for the immediate lifting of these restrictions,” said the statement.
“The Secretary-General reminds all actors that UNDOF is mandated to monitor the Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria. The Secretary-General calls on all parties to respect UNDOF’s freedom of movement and safety and security,” concluded the statement.
The peacekeepers from Fiji were forced to disarm and were then taken hostage by the Syrian rebels, who the U.S. said belonged to the Syrian Al-Qaeda-affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
81 Filipino peacekeepers who refused the rebels' order to disarm were locked in a standoff.
Fiji army chief Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga said on Thursday night that the captured peacekeepers were all safe, and asked people in the Pacific nation to pray that they are released unharmed.
"(The) men are safe and well even, though they are detained by armed rebels in the Golan region," he told reporters in the capital Suva, according to the AFP news agency.
Over the past year, the UNDOF force has had its peacekeepers seized by armed groups, its observation posts attacked and looted, and its freedom of movement curtailed.
The Golan Heights has been tense since the start of the civil war in Syria, and the fighting in Syria has more than once spilled over to the Israeli side of the Golan Heights.
On Wednesday morning, six mortar shells careened into Israeli territory from the Quneitra area, lightly-to-moderately wounding an IDF officer and causing damage to several vehicles.
In response to the mortar shells, IDF artillery fired at a Syrian military position.
Later in the day, one Israeli was lightly wounded by tank fire in the area, after a possibly errant shell struck an Israeli community in the region.
Senior IDF sources appraised on Thursday that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's forces would attack the Syrian side of the Golan Heights over the course of the night, after the Quneitra border crossing to Israel on that side was captured by rebel forces. Similar attacks also took place on Wednesday night.