Fighting erupts between Syrian army, rebels on Golan Heights

Photo: Fighting erupts between Syrian army, rebels on Golan Heights
 / Arab World

Heavy fighting between Syrian army forces and rebels erupted on the Golan Heights on Monday, a Reuters photographer said, but it was unclear if either of the two sides had gained an advantage to control a key frontier crossing.

Rebels of al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front have been battling the Syrian army in the area and have wrested control of the crossing at Quneitra, which is operated by the United Nations.

Persistent small arms fire and explosions from mortar shells and other munitions could be heard on the Israeli-controlled side of the frontier of the strategic plateau, the photographer reported.

At least one tank belonging to the Syrian army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad was also involved and rebels could be seen a few meters (yards) away from the frontier fence.

On Sunday, Israel's military said it shot down a drone that flew from Syria into Israeli-controlled airspace over the Golan.

It was not immediately clear who dispatched the unmanned aircraft or the nature of its mission in an area where fighting from Syria's civil war has occasionally spilled over into Israeli-held territory.

In a statement, the military said the drone was downed by a Patriot missile near the Quneitra crossing between the Israeli-held Golan Heights and Syria.

A contingent of 44 U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji was detained on the Syrian side of the Golan by Islamist militants on Thursday, and the head of the Fijian army said on Sunday negotiations for their release were being pursued.

More than 70 Philippine troops trapped by Islamists in a different area on the Syrian side of the frontier were extracted to safety, the United Nations and authorities in Manila said.

Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war and beefed up defenses in the area after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war more than three years ago.

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