UN evacuates all troops from Golan as Syria fighting worsens
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UN evacuates all troops from Golan as Syria fighting worsens

Peacekeepers cross into Israel to get away from border-area battles between rebel groups and regime forces in what UN calls 'deteriorating situation'

A convoy of United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) vehicles as it leaves the Syrian side of the Golan Heights into Israel on September 15, 2014. (AFP/Jalaa Marey)
A convoy of United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) vehicles as it leaves the Syrian side of the Golan Heights into Israel on September 15, 2014. (AFP/Jalaa Marey)

UN peacekeepers withdrew from all of their posts in the Syrian Golan Heights Monday, as regime forces and rebel factions battled for control of the areas adjacent to the Syrian-Israeli border in what the UN called a “deteriorating situation.”

A UN spokesperson said all the troops posted on the Syrian side had been ordered to pull back into Israel.

The Syrian armed groups posed “a direct threat to the safety and security” of the troops from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), said UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

“All the UN personnel in these positions have thus been relocated to the Alpha side,” said Dujarric, referring to the Israeli side.

The UN spokesperson said that the situation on the Syrian side of the Golan “has deteriorated severely over the last several days” and that “armed groups have made advances in the area of UNDOF positions.”

UN Fijian peacekeepers members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) wave as they ride on top of a vehicle while leaving the Syrian side of the Golan Heights into the Israeli side of the strategic plateau, on September 15, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/ JALAA MAREY)
UN Fijian peacekeepers members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) wave as they ride on top of a vehicle while leaving the Syrian side of the Golan Heights into the Israeli side of the strategic plateau, on September 15, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/ JALAA MAREY)

A source with the UN said soldiers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force evacuated from Camp Faouar — their main headquarters in Syria — into Israel, out of concern for their safety, CNN reported.

The withdrawal came as rebels reportedly gained control of almost the entire Syrian border with Israel.

Earlier Monday, UN troops were seen bringing their gear over the border via special gates opened for them by the IDF, according to an Israel Radio report, and not through the rebel-controlled Quneitra crossing.

Al-Qaida-linked Syrian militants gather around vehicles carrying UN peacekeepers from Fiji Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014 (photo credit: AP Photo/Gil Eliyahu)
Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian militants gather around vehicles carrying UN peacekeepers from Fiji Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014 (photo credit: AP Photo/Gil Eliyahu)

On Thursday, 45 Fijian peacekeepers previously held captive by an al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel group were released in Syria’s Golan Heights.

Fighters from the Nusra Front group captured the Fijian troops late last month in the Golan Heights, where a 1,200-strong UN force had monitored the buffer zone between Syria and Israel.

It was unclear whether the Nusra Front received anything in exchange for the release of the Fijian troops.

In exchange for the Fijians’ release, Nusra Front had demanded removal of the group from the UN terrorist list, the delivery of humanitarian aid to parts of the Syrian capital of Damascus, and compensation for three of its fighters who, it claims, were killed in a shootout with UN officers.

Undated image, attached in a statement released on August 30, 2014, on the Hanin Network website, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by the Nusra Front on August 28, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Hanin Network Website, File)
Undated image, attached in a statement released on August 30, 2014, on the Hanin Network website, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by the Nusra Front on August 28, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Hanin Network Website, File)

The capture of the 45 came during heavy fighting between rebels groups and Syrian regulars around the Quneitra crossing, the sole transfer point between Israel and Syria. Dozens of other peacekeepers from the Philippines managed to escape the group during a firefight.

The Nusra Front has accused the UN of doing nothing to help the Syrian people since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. It said the Fijians were seized in retaliation for the UN’s ignoring “the daily shedding of the Muslims’ blood in Syria” and even colluding with Assad’s army “to facilitate its movement to strike the vulnerable Muslims” through a buffer zone in the Golan Heights.

Fighting from Syria again spilled over into Israel again on Monday morning as a mortar shell struck near the Israeli side of the Quneitra crossing in the Golan Heights, the army said.

There were no injuries or damage reported.

Artillery from Syria has landed frequently on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights for the past few weeks.

On Friday night, a mortar shell exploded on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, in what authorities believe was errant fire from fighting across the border. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

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