Al Nusra Confirms Holding UN Peacekeepers

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 5.23.56 AM

A photo posted on Twitter by the Al Nusral front showing the UN Fijian peacekeepers abducted from their position in the Golan Heights.

Aug 31, 2014 – The Al Nusra Front have confirmed they have taken hostage UN peacekeepers from Fiji abducted from the UN’s Golan Heights observer mission.

The group said it is holding the peacekeepers hostage “in reply to all crimes committed by the UN against al-Sham since 1974 in protecting the zionist Israeli border, we took 43 UNDOF hostages.”

The UN have said that 44 Fijian troops have been detained. It has not yet said who is holding them hostage.

“Al Nusra is on terrorist list and on sanction list. All we do is offer support for our brothers in Syris. In exchange, we face the UN article 7,” the group said. Article 7 of the UN charter authorizes the use of force to maintain international peace and security.

“We confirm all 43 UNDOF are in a secure place, in good health and receive medical attention,” Al Nusra said.

The UN observer force in Golan was established in 1974 in response to a ceasefire agreement agreement between Israel and Syria following the end of the 1973 war. It patrols a demiltarized zone agreed on both sides.

UN troops were mandated to observe the ceasefire, in the absence of a peace agreement between the countries, and occupy a zone which both sides declared should be demilitarized, according to their disengagement agreement.

Meanwhile, the UN says the 40 Filipino troops pinned down in their position have been vacated following a ceasefire agreed with armed groups.

Some 70 Filipino troops had come under fire in their positions following the abduction of the Fijian troops. Irish troops rescued some 30 of those peacekeepers on Friday. The remaining Filipino were troops engaged in a standoff with armed groups, including Al Nusra, until a ceasefire was arranged.

Fijian Commander Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitogan told the Fiji Times that he has been informed that his troops are safe and have been removed from the Golan by their captives but is unsure of their location. “I am sure sooner or later they will provide a demand to the UN but at this stage we can wait and see what happens in the next few days.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Golan Peacekeepers in Firefight With Al Nusra Front

The town of Quneitra where Al Nusra on Wednesday took control of the crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights

The town of Quneitra where Al Nusra on Wednesday took control of the crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights

Aug. 30, 2014 – UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights have been engaged in ongoing battles with armed groups including the Al Nusra Front.

Thirty-two Filipino troops were rescued by UNDOF’s Quick Reaction Force when they came under attack at Position 69 [see map] while the UN said there is an ongoing battle at position 68 which has pinned down another Filipino contingent. The UN has pulled its troops from Observation Posts 52 and 56 after firing in the vicinity.

There are no reported casualties among UN forces, the United Nations spokesperson’s office said in an email to reporters.

“UNDOF reports that armed elements also attacked UN Position 68 with mortar and heavy machine gun fire. The UN peacekeepers returned fire and prevented the attackers from entering the position. Position 68 is currently under fire, preventing the personnel from moving out,” the email from the UN spokesperson’s office said.

Forty-four Fijian peacekeepers abducted on Thursday are still being held captive by Al Nusra while some 40 more are surrounded and unable to leave their position.

“The Secretary General strongly condemns the attack today on positions of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and the continuing detention and restrictions of movement on 84 UNDOF peacekeepers from the Fijian and Philippine Battalions by armed non-state actors, including the Al Nusra Front,” the UN said in a statement.

The attacks and detention of peacekeepers comes after months of fighting in the separation zone between armed groups and Syrian government forces as well as firing from Syria into Israel. Israel has returned fire to Syrian Army positions as it holds the government responsible for any firing from their side of the of the zone, though it is not clear if Syrian government forces are in control of their positions.

The Al Nusra Front which has teamed up with other armed groups in the area took control of the Syrian crossing with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Wednesday.

The 1,200 UN troops are deployed to observe a 1973 ceasefire between Israel and Syria and are stationed along an 80km long and between 0.5 and 10km wide separation zone which both countries agreed should be free of any military activity.

In Ban Ki-moon’s latest report to the Security Council on the UN’s Golan observer force, he wrote that several different armed groups are operating in the area and these groups possess heavy weapons and at least three tanks. A source told UN Tribune that United Nations vehicles have also been captured by the armed groups in the past few days.

The June report to the Council told of an increasingly dangerous environment for the UN peacekeepers who it said have observed black flags associated with the Islamic State in the separation zone and that in April “two members of the armed opposition displayed the severed head of a presumed Syrian armed forces officer as they passed United Nations Position 80.”

Ban’s next report to the Security Council on UNDOF is due in two weeks. The 1,200-troop mission is considered crucial because of the lack of a peace agreement between Syria and Israel but the recent escalation in attacks on peacekeepers and the abduction of the 44 Fijian troops have put its future in jeopardy with the Filipino government announcing last week that it will pull its 330 contingent at the end of September.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image Credit: “Qunaitra” by Christian Koehn. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Forty-three UN Peacekeepers Detained in Golan

First Phase Digital
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