U.N.: 43 peacekeepers seized by armed group in Syria

A member of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) carries binoculars at an observation post in the Golan Heights that overlooks the Syrian side of the Qunietra crossing August 28, 2014. REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations says 43 peacekeepers have been detained by an armed group in Syria during fighting and 81 other peacekeepers are trapped.

The office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the peacekeepers were detained early Thursday on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights during a "period of increased fighting between armed elements and the Syrian Arab Armed Forces."

The statement says another 81 peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force are "currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah."

"The United Nations is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers, and to restore the full freedom of movement of the Force throughout its area of operation," the statement said.

U.N. peacekeepers were also detained by armed groups in the area last year. They were released safely.

The U.N. said there are more than 1,200 peacekeepers from six countries serving in UNDOF.

Government warplanes targeted rebels near the country's frontier with Israel in the Golan Heights, a day after opposition fighters captured a crossing point on the disputed border.

The Syrian airstrikes hit several areas near the frontier in Quneitra province, including the village of Jaba, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, also reported the air raids.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy clashes were raging between the rebels and the Syrian military in Jaba and the surrounding countryside.

White plumes of smoke set off by exploding mortar rounds could be seen on Thursday from the Israeli side of the Golan. The sound of small arms fire could be heard echoing in the background.

An array of Syrian rebel groups, including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, captured the frontier crossing on Wednesday. A rebel spokesman said the opposition is focused on fighting President Bashar Assad, and poses no threat to Israel.

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