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UN: 43 Fijian peacekeepers seized in Syria

Friday, August 29, 2014

Update: 9:00AM SYRIAN armed groups have captured 43 United Nations peacekeepers on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights which borders Israel, and have surrounded 81 others, the UN says.

The seized peacekeepers were from Fiji and were forced to surrender their weapons before being taken hostage near the Quneitra crossing on Thursday.

However, 81 Filipinos "held their ground" and refused to disarm, the Filipino defence department said.

"This resulted in a standoff which is still the prevailing situation at this time as UN officials try to peacefully resolve the situation," the statement from Manila said.

Syrian rebels, including fighters from the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, stormed the crossing at Quneitra on Wednesday, sparking an exchange of gunfire with Israeli troops.

Quneitra is the only crossing between the Syrian and the Israeli-controlled side of the strategic plateau.

The UN Security Council "strongly condemned" the detention of the 43 and the "surrounding of positions" manned by the 81 other peacekeepers, by "terrorist groups and by members of non-state armed groups".

The council has demanded the "unconditional and immediate release of all the detained United Nations peacekeepers" and urged countries with influence to help win their release.

The 81 Filipino troops were locked in a standoff near Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah, while the Fijian soldiers were taken to the southern part of the buffer zone, UN officials said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it was unclear which group had staged the attacks.

"Some groups are self-identified as affiliated to Al Nusra but we are not able to confirm," he said.

"The United States strongly condemns the detention of UN peacekeepers and ongoing violence targeting the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights by non-state armed groups, including UN Security Council-designated terrorist group Al-Nusra Front," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

UN officials noted that the peacekeepers monitoring the armistice line between Israel and Syria were detained twice last year and released safely.

In June 2013, there was a similar takeover of the crossing by rebel forces, but the Syrian army managed to regain control.

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