Syrian militants have reportedly captured more than 40 United Nations peacekeepers during skirmishes on the Israeli border.
Forty-seven soldiers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) are understood to have been abducted during clashes in the Golan Heights area between Syrian government forces and militants fighting with the Al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda linked group.
Details of the abduction, which took place during fighting on Thursday, August 28, 2014 remain unclear but it is understood that some of the troops who have been kidnapped include soldiers from the Philippines.
The UN peacekeeping mission was set up in 1974 to attempt to enforce a truce between Syria and Israel, which took the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967.
However, the soldiers have found themselves increasingly in the firing line of Syria’s own civil war since it began in 2011.
The kidnappings take place just days after the Philippines government said it would be recalling its 331-strong peacekeeping force because of concerns over their safety. Last September, 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers were kidnapped by Syrian rebels, but were released a week later.
Al-Nusra is an offshoot of al-Qaeda, but is considered one of the less bloodthirsty Islamic militant groups fighting under the Syrian rebel banner. It opposes the brutality of groups like the Islamic State, which beheaded James Foley, the kidnapped American journalist.
Reports of the kidnapping of the peacekeepers emerged as Islamic State fighters claimed to have executed dozens of members of the Syrian army they captured after seizing an air base in the northeast of the country, a group monitoring the violence said on Thursday, August 28, 2014.
The Islamic State stormed Tabqa air base on Sunday, August 31, 2014 after days of clashes with the army. A video posted online by Islamic State supporters on Thursday, August 28, 2014 appeared to show members of the group making scores of Syrian army captives walk and run through the desert in their underwear. It showed at least 135 men, some with their hands on their heads, making their way barefoot through a desert landscape as armed men jeered them.
It was not clear what happened to the men afterwards, but photos posted by Islamic State supporters online on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 appeared to show them gunning down at least seven members of the army.
The Golan Heights has been the scene of heavy fighting between al-Nusra and Syrian government forces in recent days, with government airstrikes reported around the border area in Syria’s Quneitra province. White plumes of smoke set off by exploding mortar rounds could be seen on Thursday from the Israeli side of the Golan, and the sound of small arms fire could be heard echoing in the background.
An array of Syrian rebel groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, captured a frontier crossing on Wednesday. A rebel spokesman said the opposition was focused on fighting President Bashar Assad, and poses no threat to Israel.
During the fighting on Wednesday, August 27, 2014, two Israelis were wounded by stray bullets and a mortar. Israel responded with artillery fire at two Syrian army positions, the Israeli military said.