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UN: 4 peacekeepers seized in Golan Heights

May 7, 2013 6:45 P.M. (Updated: May 8, 2013 4:59 P.M.)
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) -- An armed group on Tuesday abducted four UN peacekeepers from the Philippines in the Golan Heights, which has been hit by a mounting spillover from the Syrian civil war, the United Nations said.

The four were patrolling near the al-Jamlah locality in the ceasefire zone between Israel and Syria where 21 Filipino peacekeepers were seized by Syrian rebels in March, said a UN peacekeeping spokeswoman, Josephine Guerrero.

"An unknown armed group" took the men, Guerrero told AFP. "Efforts are underway to secure their release."

The UN Disengagement Observer Force, which has been in the Golan Heights since 1974, has about 1,000 troops and civilian staff.

The 917 troops from Austria, India, the Philippines, Morocco and Moldova carry only very light arms.

The United Nations sent extra armored personnel carriers, ambulances and other security equipment to the force after the March abduction.

The ceasefire has seen increased hostilities from the two-year-old Syrian war with shells from the Syrian side falling onto Israeli territory and the Israeli military firing back.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon said in a report in March that there had been "continued, often intense, clashes between the Syrian armed forces and armed members of the opposition" in the ceasefire zone.

UNDOF peacekeepers had also "observed and reported instances of continued transborder movements of unidentified individuals, some of them armed" between Lebanon and Syria in the northern part of the ceasefire zone," the report added.

"Since the beginning of January, the number and the frequency of such activities have increased," Ban said.

Israel, which is technically at war with Syria, has occupied 1,200 square kilometers of the Golan Heights, which it annexed in 1967 in a move never recognized by the international community.
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