Syria: Concern in Jerusalem as Austrian peacekeepers withdraw from regime-seized Golan Heights border crossing


A border crossing between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights was the scene of heavy fighting yesterday, which eventually led to loyalist troops taking control of the position.

Initially rebel forces took control of the post, before it was later overrun by those fighting to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power.

The fighting at the rarely used Quneitra crossing, which is largely used by UN staff and the local Druze community, will make an already nervous Israel increasingly concerned that the bloody civil war could spread across the border. The fighting at the border came after at least two mortar rounds that had been fired in Syria, landed on the Israeli side of the Golan. The Israeli military did not confirm the crossing had been taken by Syrian rebels this morning, but said the area had been declared a closed military zone.

Some people in the area are already known to be stockpiling food and water, in preparation for a more concentrated attack, or aggression on the nearby Labanese border, where the militant group Hezbollah operates.

The incident led to the Austrian government announcing that it planned to withdraw its 300-strong peacekeeping force in the area. There are about 1,100 UN peacekeepers operating in the Golan Heights; one Filipino solider is thought to have been wounded in the fighting between Syrian government troops and opposition fighters. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the1967 and after occupying the area for 14 years, formally annexed it in 1981.

Earlier in the day, the head of Al-Qa'ida, Ayman al-Zawahri, called on Syrians to unite and topple President Bashar al-Assad, just a day after government captured the strategically important town of Qusayr.