Aug. 28, 2014 – Forty-three UN peacekeepers from Fiji serving with the UN mission in the Golan Heights (UNDOF) have been detained by an armed group while another 81 are trapped in their bases.
UNDOF monitors the line of separation between Syria and Israel following the end of the 1973 war.
“During a period of increased fighting beginning yesterday between armed elements and Syrian Arab Armed Forces within the area of separation in the Golan, forty-three peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force were detained early this morning by an armed group in the vicinity of Al Qunaytirah,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujaric said at a daily briefing. He did not name the the armed group but said many armed groups are operating in the area and some have self-identified as Al Nusra, a branch of Al Qaeda.
The Security Council released a statement condemning the detention by “Security Council designated terrorist groups and by members of non-state armed groups.” Full Statement
The detained are believed held in the southern part of the line of separation (see map).
“Another eighty-one UNDOF peacekeepers are currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah,” he added. The eighty-one troops surrounded are from the Philippines. The UN has since said the number of Filipino troops surrounded is 72. The Irish contingent in the Golan Heights have been sent to reinforce positions where there is a standoff.
A source familiar with the situation told UN Tribune that Al Nusra is the group that detained the Fijian troops who he described as “tough” and not likely to capitulate.
In June, the Security Council received a report on UNDOF which described a worsening security situation in the buffer zone with frequent clashes between armed opposition and Syrian government forces. The report also said that the armed opposition have been tailing UN patrols, knowing that Syrian forces won’t fire on UN peacekeepers.
The report added that UN troops had reported seeing black flags in the Golan, the flag associated with the Islamic State.
UNDOF peacekeepers were previously detained by armed elements in March and May of 2013 and were released safely.
Those detentions prompted Austria, Croatia and Japan to withdraw their troops. Fiji and Ireland later sent troops to bolster the 1,200 strong force. On Saturday, the Philippine government said it would withdraw its troops from UNDOF at the end of their tour of duty in October citing security concerns.
The UN Security Council renewed the mandate of UNDOF in June until December 31, 2014.
Troop Contributors to UNDOF as of July 31.
1 . – Fiji
Contingent Troop 477
2 . – India
Contingent Troop 193
3 . – Ireland
Contingent Troop 133
4 . – Nepal
Contingent Troop 72
5 . – Netherlands
Contingent Troop 2
6 . – Philippines
Contingent Troop 346
Total by Mission 1,223 (source: UN DPKO)
– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz