BEIRUT

Middle East

Islamist fighters seize Syria crossing near Israel: Syrian Observatory

Israelis look at smoke rising on the Israeli-controlled side of the line dividing the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria following fighting near the Quneitra border crossing August 27, 2014. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

BEIRUT: Al Qaeda's Syria wing Nusra Front and other Islamist fighters have taken control of a border crossing on the line dividing Syria from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a group monitoring the Syrian conflict said on Wednesday.

The fighters, who have vowed to "liberate" the area, captured the Quneitra post on the Syrian side from forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad after fierce clashes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The organisation gathers information from all sides in the Syrian war.

The crossing is monitored by the United Nations, which oversees traffic between the two enemy countries but the distance between the two warring adversaries' posts is some 200 metres (yards).

During the fighting, two Israelis were wounded by stray bullets, a soldier and a civilian, both in the Golan Heights. Israel responded with artillery fire at two Syrian army positions, the Israeli military said. It was the latest spillover of violence from the three-year conflict.

Stephane Dujarric, a U.N. spokeswoman, said the organisation's peacekeepers could not confirm whether the rebels had seized the crossing, "as fighting is ongoing" at one of its gates.

Dujarric reported "heavy fighting between the Syrian armed forces and armed members of the opposition" in the Quneitra area adding that several mortars struck near U.N. positions near the peacekeepers' base, but that they took shelter apparently avoiding casualties.

She said the commander of peacekeepers there known as the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was in touch with Syria and the Israeli military urging both to "exercise restraint and prevent an escalation of the situation."

Shelling from the Syrian civil war has occasionally reached into the Israeli-controlled Golan, occasionally causing injuries and damage to soldiers and civilians. Israel has said the firing has sometimes been deliberately aimed at its troops.

Israel captured the western part of the strategic plateau from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed it, a move that is not internationally recognised.

While the Syrian army has a presence on the Golan, some areas are controlled by rebels fighting to topple Assad, including al Qaeda-inspired militants hostile to the Jewish state.

Rebels last year briefly took the Quneitra border crossing with Israel and now control many villages in the area.

In early July, another al Qaeda off-shoot, Islamic State, which controls roughly a third of Syria and is the strongest insurgent group in the war against Assad, swept into Iraq, taking control of swathes of territory.

 

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