Israeli troops monitor border after militants seize peacekeepers

Posted at 08/29/14 8:00 PM

TEL AVIV - Israeli soldiers were seen monitoring along the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Friday after the United Nations said militants fighting the Syrian army detained 43 United Nations peacekeepers and trapped another 81 in the region.

The U.N. said they were working towards securing their release.

The affected peacekeepers are from the Philippines and Fiji, a U.N. spokesman had said and another 81 UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force) peacekeepers were being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah. He said the 81 trapped troops were from the Philippines and the 43 seized ones from Fiji.

U.N. officials say that the peacekeepers, whose job is to monitor the cessation of hostilities, carry small arms that are only to be used in extreme circumstances. In previous situations where UNDOF peacekeepers were held hostage, the troops did not use their weapons.

The Quneitra crossing on the Golan is a strategic plateau captured by Israel in a 1967 Middle East war. Syria and Israel technically remain at war. Syrian troops are not allowed in an area of separation under a 1973 ceasefire formalized in 1974.

UNDOF monitors the area of separation, a narrow strip of land running about 45 miles (70 km) from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan. There are 1,223 UNDOF peacekeepers from six countries.

Before the Syrian civil war, now in its fourth year, the region was generally quiet and the peacekeepers had mostly found their biggest enemy to be boredom.

The force's personnel come from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines. The United Nations said this week that the Philippines has decided to pull out of UNDOF, and from a U.N. force in Liberia, which is struggling with an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

Blue-helmeted U.N. troops were seized by militants in March and May 2013. In both of those cases they were released safely.

Austria, Japan and Croatia have all pulled their troops out of UNDOF due to the deteriorating security situation and spillover from the Syrian war.