Israeli forces attacked Syrian troops today after a projectile hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights during intense fighting between Syrian government forces and rebel groups.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which gathers information from a network of activists on the ground, said that Israeli aircraft had hit the headquarters of the Syrian Army's 90th brigade in Quneitra Governorate — most of which is now part of the Golan Heights after being captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War and 1973 Yom Kippur War — and that three soldiers had reportedly been killed.
An IDF spokesperson said in a statement that at least one projectile had struck the territory and that a Syrian army position had been fired on in response, with confirmed hits.
SOHR also reported that fighting between Syrian rebels and government troops centered around Hamidiyeh town in Quneitra had resulted in casualties on both sides. Syria's state-run SANA news agency said that government forces had inflicted heavy losses on "terrorists" (the term it uses for rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad) and destroyed equipment during fighting in Quneitra
Syrian rebel groups captured a border crossing in the region last week. Fighters from al Qaeda's official Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra subsequently crossed the "disengagement line" separating Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights. They then surrounded and kidnapped 45 Fijian peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) — part of the multinational UN mission monitoring the buffer area between Syria and Israel. The militants also besieged two groups of Filipino soldiers. UNDOF has maintained the zone since 1974
The Fijian soldiers are still being held in an unknown location, but the 75 Filipino troops escaped during the weekend after intervention by other members of the force. Fijian military commander Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga said on Tuesday that al-Nusra had demanded that the group be removed from the UN's terror blacklist, that humanitarian aid is delivered to a stronghold of theirs near the capital of Damascus, and that compensation is paid for three of its fighters who died during clashes with UNDOF members.
The UN Security Council demanded the release of the 45 peacekeepers on Wednesday and condemned their detention in the "strongest terms," adding that: "There can never be any justification for attacks on or the detention of UN peacekeepers."
Irish Defense Minister Simon Coveney was not happy with the UN's handling of the situation and its ramifications for the 130 Irish troops which are part of the force. Coveney said that he would withdraw Irish troops from the Golan Heights unless the UN made changes to the mission's mandate and nature to reflect the conflict in Syria.
"The Syrian civil war has fundamentally changed things and we cannot expose our Irish peacekeepers to an unacceptable level of risk," he told the Irish Independent.
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