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Syrian Rebels Attack Peacekeepers      08/30 11:39

   BEIRUT (AP) -- Clashes erupted between al-Qaida-linked Syrian rebels and 
U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on Saturday after the militants 
surrounded their encampment, activists and officials said, as the international 
organization risked being sucked further into the conflict.

   Other U.N. peacekeepers were able to flee from a different encampment that 
that was also surrounded by rebels of the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's Syrian 
affiliate, they said.

   The clashes came after Syrian rebel groups, including the Nusra Front, 
overran the Quneitra crossing --- located on the frontier between Syrian and 
Israeli controlled parts of the Golan Heights --- on Wednesday, seizing 44 
Fijian peacekeepers.

   The Nusra Front also surrounded the nearby Rwihana and Breiqa encampments, 
where other U.N. peacekeepers were holed up.

   The gunbattle began early Saturday at the Rwihana base some 1.5 miles (2.3 
kilometers) from Quneitra, where 40 Filipino peacekeepers were surrounded by 
Nusra fighters who were ordering them to surrender, said Rami Abdurrahman of 
the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Philippines' Defense 
Secretary Voltaire Gazmin gave a similar account but did not name the armed 

   Abdurrahman, whose information comes from a network of activists throughout 
Syria, said he was not aware of any fatalities among the 40 Filipino 
peacekeepers in the Rwihana encampment as sporadic fighting continued 
throughout the day. A Philippine military spokesman, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, 
also said there were no casualties.

   The 35 Filipino U.N. peacekeepers at the Breiqa encampment were extracted on 
Saturday morning, with the assistance of Irish peacekeepers who rushed to the 
scene, said officials.

   The Irish U.N. peacekeeper battalion, which is tasked with emergency 
responses, evacuated all the Filipino U.N. peacekeepers on Saturday morning, 
said a military official who spoke on condition that his name and country of 
origin not be revealed, citing army policy.

   He said there was no shooting involved, and no injuries. He said that the 
Irish battalion also evacuated another base on Friday but provided no further 

   Gazmin confirmed that peacekeepers from his country were "extricated." The 
Philippine military said there were 35 Filipino troops in the encampment.

   An Israeli military spokesman confirmed that a number of U.N. peacekeepers 
entered Israel. He spoke on condition of anonymity citing military guidelines.

   It was not immediately clear which rebel group was holding the Fijian U.N. 
peacekeepers, although it was likely to be the Nusra Front, said Syrian 
activist Abdurrahman.

   The Nusra Front has recently seized hostages to exchange for prisoners 
detained in Syria and Lebanon.

   The situation of the peacekeepers, tasked with monitoring a 1974 
disengagement accord between Syria and Israel, remains "very, very fluid," the 
U.N. secretary-general's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters Friday at 
the U.N. headquarters in New York.

   The U.N. said in a statement that it had received assurances from credible 
sources that the Fijian peacekeepers "are safe and in good health."

   U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the detention of the 
Fijians and called for their immediate release.

   The U.N. mission, known as UNDOF, has 1,223 troops from six countries: Fiji, 
India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines.

   Various rebel groups have been engaged in intense fighting with the Syrian 
military in and near the Golan Heights.

   Also Saturday, a Syrian activist released a video showing extremists from 
the Islamic State group opening fire and killing dozens of men stripped down to 
their underwear.

   The men in the video were likely those who were captured after the 
extremists overran a Syrian airfield on Sunday; Syrian soldiers who were stuck 
behind front lines after the northeastern Tabqa air base fell to the Islamic 
State group.

   The video, released by an activist who uses the name Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, 
corresponded with The Associated Press reporting of the event. It matched a 
series of other videos that were released since Wednesday. One video showed the 
men being held in a concrete-floor room; another showed the men forced to march 
through a barren landscape in their underwear, herded like sheep. Another 
showed their seemingly lifeless bodies in piles on the ground.

   The British-based Observatory earlier said around 120 captive government 
troops from Tabqa were killed near the base.

   There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government.

   The Islamic State group uses violence and images of violence, from 
mass-killings to beheadings, to instill fear in its opponents and win recruits 
as it seeks to expand a proto-state it has carved out in Syria and Iraq.


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