Intense fighting between Syrian government forces and Islamist rebels in the Quneitra region in southern Syria has spilled over into Israel over the last week.
As stray weapons and mortar fire has made its way into the Golan Heights, the IDF has decided to take further steps to ready its troops in the area. The decision also comes in the wake of a Syrian drone interception by the army on Sunday into Israeli airspace.
The drone was shot down by the IAF using surface-to-air Patriot missiles. It is believed by army officials that the unmanned drone came from the Quneitra area.
The army’s Northern Command has deployed infantry forces in armored personnel carriers across the border area with Syria. In addition, the IDF’s top leaders are meeting Tuesday to assess the escalating situation and create an action plan.
Last Wednesday, Syrian rebels, including members of the al-Qaeda linked Al Nusra Front, seized the Quneitra border crossing into Israel. The area is the only border crossing between Israel and Syria and one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s last strongholds in southern Syria.
Rebels from all over Syria have been pouring into Quneitra to help hold the area from army forces. On Monday, a mortar fired from Syria exploded inside Israeli territory, prompting the IDF to declare the area near Quneitra a closed military zone.
Due to the new measures imposed by the IDF, Israeli farmers who work near the border have been prevented from entering their fields. The IDF has also restricted access to civilians and journalists near the border due to stray weapons fire from the fighting in Syria striking inside Israel.
The Syrian in-fighting is not only affecting Israeli troops but UN peacekeepers stationed in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria. Over 70 Filipino and 45 Fijian peacekeepers were kidnapped by rebel forces. The Filipino forces escaped and fled back to Israel but the Fijian troops still remain in rebel hands.
The Islamist rebels are demanding of the UN that their group be removed from a global terrorism list and have demanded compensation for its members who were killed in fighting.
The Al Nusra Front published a statement online on Sunday that said the Fijian peacekeepers were “in a safe place and in good health.” They also published a group shot on the captured men with their identification cards.
Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga, head of Fiji’s army, said that a UN negotiating team has been sent to Syria to speak with members of the Al Nusra Front.
“The rebels are not telling us where the troops are, but they continue to reassure us they are being well-looked after,” Tikoitoga told media in Suva. “They also told us they are ensuring that they are taken out of battle areas.”