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Middle East

Syria army, rebels clash as UN bids to free peacekeepers

In a picture taken from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, smoke billows from the Syrian village of Qunaitra following an explosion during fighting, between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels, near the Qunaitra border crossing on August 31, 2014. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

NEAR THE QUNAITRA CROSSING: Syrian troops battled rebels hard by the armistice line with Israel on the Golan Heights Monday as the United Nations pressed efforts to free 44 peacekeepers held by the insurgents.

Several mortar rounds struck close to the cease-fire line as the combatants exchanged rocket, mortar and tank fire near the Qunaitra crossing, which the rebels seized last week, an AFP correspondent reported.

Israeli public radio reported that one stray round hit Israeli-occupied territory, without causing any casualties.

Al-Qaeda rebels stormed the Syrian side of crossing Wednesday and seized 44 Fijian peacekeepers, part of a U.N. mission that has monitored the cease-fire on the strategic plateau since 1974.

The United Nations said Sunday that the Fijians "continue to be detained by armed elements."

"At this time, no additional information on their status or location has been established. The United Nations continues to actively seek their immediate and unconditional release," it said.

More than 70 Philippine peacekeepers who had been surrounded by the rebels escaped the hot zone over the weekend but the U.N. mission remained on high alert.

Peacekeepers were detained twice last year before being released safely.

The Philippines said before the latest incident that it will repatriate its 331-strong contingent for security reasons, mirroring previous moves by Australia, Croatia and Japan.

The U.N. Disengagement Observer Force currently has 1,200 peacekeepers from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands.

There has been repeated fire across the cease-fire line since the uprising in Syria erupted in March 2011, not all of it stray.

In June, Israeli warplanes attacked Syrian military headquarters and positions after an Israeli teenager was killed in what the Jewish state said was a cross-border attack by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers of the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War of 1967, then annexed it in 1981 in a move never recognized by the international community.

 

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Summary

Syrian troops battled rebels hard by the armistice line with Israel on the Golan Heights Monday as the United Nations pressed efforts to free 44 peacekeepers held by the insurgents.

Al-Qaeda rebels stormed the Syrian side of crossing Wednesday and seized 44 Fijian peacekeepers, part of a U.N. mission that has monitored the cease-fire on the strategic plateau since 1974 .

In June, Israeli warplanes attacked Syrian military headquarters and positions after an Israeli teenager was killed in what the Jewish state said was a cross-border attack by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.


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