Syria rebels, Assad troops battle for Golan crossing

Hours after opposition victory over Assad regime forces at Quneitra, media reports indicate that Syrian soldiers have taken back border crossing; IDF tells Golan farmers to keep away from border after mortar shell lands nearby.

June 6, 2013 10:00
3 minute read.
UNDOF soldiers enter Israel from Syria (Ariel  Jer

quneitra crossing 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Soldiers loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have recaptured the Quneitra border crossing on the Golan Heights just hours after reports Thursday morning indicated that rebels fighting the Damascus regime took over the symbolic terminus.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed Thursday morning that the Quneitra border crossing on the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan Heights had been routed by rebels fighting forces loyal to the embattled Assad, Army Radio reported.

Hours later, however, Channel 10's web site quoted Arab news sources as reporting that the Syrian military had regained control over the crossing.

Israeli authorities have instructed their citizens to keep away from the border fence area, as heavy fighting continues between the warring parties.

The IDF filed a complaint to the UN over the Syrian army's presence in the ceasefire area, Israel Radio reported.

The head of the United Nations' peacekeeping operations confirmed there had been incidents on the Syrian-Israeli border.

"Yes there was shooting," Herve Ladsous told reporters during a visit to Paris, adding the UN would maintain its involvement in the nearby Golan Heights region.

"We are following events in the Golan Heights, which is a very sensitive region, with particularly close attention," he added, while not confirming that the crossing had been captured.

Ladsous said the 1,000-strong United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) had taken measures to ensure the safety of its personnel but stressed that its involvement was not called into doubt by the incidents.

"We are doing everything we can to reduce risks. We have closed posts that were too exposed, reinforced our equipment and vehicles, and our activities are more static," he said.

Quneitra is significant since control over the crossing point is considered one of the more symbolic demonstrations of power exercised by the Damascus government.

Israeli military sources told Army Radio in recent weeks that a takeover of the Quneitra crossing by rebels would constitute a major turning point in Jerusalem’s attitude toward the conflict ravaging its neighbor to the northeast.

Earlier on Thursday, a mortar shell landed at a United Nations base in Quneitra, just a few hundred meters from the border fence separating Israel and Syria, according to media reports Thursday.

Israel Radio reported that soldiers loyal to Assad were engaged in fierce gun battles with rebels near the border fence. The Israeli military has instructed agrarians on the Golan Heights to keep away from the border fence area near Quneitra.

In addition, authorities have banned civilians from entering Kibbutz Ein Zivan, a communal settlement that lies hundreds of meters away from the border fence, according to Israel Radio.

According to news reports, the military has also sealed off the section of Route 98 which extends from Aloni Habashan to Kibbutz Ein Zivan.

Alex Shalom, an Israeli farmer from the Golan Heights, said he saw heavy smoke rising from the crossing and Israeli military ambulances evacuating people from the site.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the area leading to Quneitra had been closed off, but gave no other details on the fighting.

Officials from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which operates the base, could not be reached for comment.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was the first time that rebels had seized a border crossing next to the Golan Heights, but it was unclear whether the anti-Assad fighters would be able to hold the site.

Israel is worried that the Golan, which it captured from Syria in 1967, will become a springboard for attacks on Israelis by jihadist fighters, who are taking part in the armed struggle against Assad.

"The rebels have seized the crossing near the old city of Quneitra in the occupied Golan Heights," said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Observatory. "There are heavy explosions and fierce clashing ongoing in the area."

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