Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel groups, the Nusra Front, overran the Quneitra crossing – located on the frontier between Syrian and Israeli controlled parts of the Golan Heights – on August 27 and abducted 44 Fijian UN peacekeepers.
The gun battle began between al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels and U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on August 30, after the militants surrounded their encampment.
Seventy-two Filipino peacekeepers were also surrounded in two different areas, but they managed to escape over the weekend.
Earlier, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon again demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the Fijian peacekeepers serving with the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
The whereabouts of the peacekeepers from Fiji is unclear, but on August 31, Al-Nusra published photographs of what it said were the seized peacekeepers, along with their identification cards. It said they were “in a safe place and in good health”.
The jihadist group said they were seized because the UN was “ignoring the daily shedding of Muslims’ blood in Syria” and co-operating with government forces to “facilitate its movement to strike the vulnerable Muslims” in the demilitarised zone.
This is not the first time UNDOF personnel have been detained by rebel fighters in recent years. Peacekeepers were detained in March and May of 2013 and were released safely.
Israel seized most of the Golan Heights in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.
In the Israel-Syria sector tension remained high, and from March 1974 the situation became increasingly unstable. Against this background, the United States undertook a diplomatic initiative, which resulted in the conclusion of an Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian forces. The Agreement provided for an area of separation and for two equal zones of limited forces and armaments on both sides of the area, and called for the establishment of a United Nations observer force to supervise its implementation.
The Agreement was signed on 31 May 1974 and, on the same day, the Security Council adopted resolution 350 (1974) by which it set up the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
Country contributors of military personnel:
- Fiji Islands