As a result of the fighting on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, the level of alert was raised on the Israeli side, an army spokesperson said Thursday, without confirming that it had been increased to the highest level.
The announcement follows several incidents in the area, including thecapture and execution of 160 Syrian soldiers by the Islamic State, gruesome pictures of which appeared online Thursday, and the abduction, also Thursday, of 43 UN peacekeepers by al-Qaeda-affiliate al-Nusra Front at the Quneitra crossing with Israel, where fighting has raged this week between Syrian rebels and government forces.
Another 81 peacekeepers were trapped in the area by heavy clashes between rebels and Syrian troops, according to the UN.
On Wednesday, the Quneitra crossing was seized by rebel combatants, including members of the Nusra Front, one of the main groups fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad for control of the embattled country.
“Al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups took the Quneitra crossing, and heavy fighting with the Syrian army is continuing in the surrounding area,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based NGO.
One Israeli man was lightly wounded Wednesday after a mortar landed near him, and earlier, an IDF officer was moderately injured as a result of stray fire from fighting between rebel groups and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria.
Over 40 members of a UN peacekeeping force were abducted Thursday by Syrian rebels during clashes in the Syrian Golan Heights, just across the Israeli border.
According to the a statement released by the UN, 43 soldiers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force were kidnapped by “an armed group” near the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria. Another 81 UNDOF peacekeepers were restricted to their positions near Ruwayhinah and Burayqah as a result of fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels, the UN added.
“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,” the statement read.
The UN did not release the identities of the abducted soldiers, though the kidnapped peacekeeping force is understood to be composed of Philippine nationals, the Telegraph reported.
The UNDOF peacekeepers have been monitoring the disengagement accord between Syria and Israel since 1974, following the conclusion of the Yom Kippur War one year earlier. In June, the Security Council extended the mission’s mandate for another six months, until 31 December 2014, the UN said.
On Wednesday, the Quneitra crossing in the Syrian Golan Heights, the only crossing between Israel and Syria, was seized by rebel combatants, including members of the al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front, one of the main groups fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad for control of the embattled country.
The Syrian opposition groups themselves later announced the “liberation” of the Quneitra border crossing with Israel. In a document uploaded to Twitter, the rebel groups added that after a series of battles, they managed to take control of the al-Rawadi checkpoint, also near the border.