43 UN peacekeepers kidnapped on Israel-Syria border

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Some 43 troops from the United Nations peacekeeping force on the border between Syria and Israel were kidnapped by rebels fighting against Syrian government-backed troops.

The peacekeepers, who were abducted Wednesday during a period of increased fighting between the rebels and the Syrian army on the border at the Quneitra crossing, reportedly are troops from the Philippines.

In addition, another 81 peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, or UNDOF, are being restricted to their positions, the United Nations said in a statement released Thursday. U.N. peacekeepers on the Israel-Syrian border have been detained in the past. They were released unharmed.

Peacekeepers serving with UNDOF monitor the 1974 disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel after the 1973 war. In June, the U.N. Security Council extended the mission’s mandate for another six months, until December 31, 2014. There are 1,223 peacekeepers from six countries — Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands, and the Philippines — serving in UNDOF.

The Philippines announced last week that it would recall its peacekeeping force, numbering 331, at the end of its tour of duty in October due to the difficulty in securing the peacekeepers. In September 2013, 21 Filipino peacekeepers were kidnapped by Syrian rebels and released a week later.

The rebels and Syrian forces in Syria’s more than three-year civil war fought Wednesday near the border for control of the crossing. Several mortars and gunfire hit Israeli territory; an Israeli military officer and a civilian were injured by the live fire. The IDF responded by striking two Syrian military positions in the Golan, according to the IDF.

In addition, farmers in northern Israel have been told to stay off farmland near the border and tourist sites on the border were closed, according to reports.

A rebel spokesman told the Associated Press Thursday that they are focused on fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, and pose no threat to Israel.