Syrian rebels capture crossing point in Golan Heights, move might anger Israel
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Syrian rebels on Thursday captured a crossing point along a cease-fire line in the contested Golan Heights patrolled by U.N. troops, an Austrian defense ministry official said.
The development is likely to deepen Israel's concerns that the volatile area in the north along the Israel-Syria frontier could fall into the hands of radical Islamic factions fighting along with other insurgent groups in Syria against President Bashar Assad's forces.
The crossing's seizure comes a day after the Syrian military, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah militants, captured the strategic town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon in a significant blow to the opposition fighters trying to topple Assad's regime.
The crossing in the Quneitra area, which is patrolled by Austrian U.N. peacekeepers, was overrun and seized by the rebels early on Thursday, said Col. Michael Bauer of the Austrian defense ministry.
Bauer told The Associated Press in Vienna that the Austrian peacekeepers pulled back from the crossing earlier and were unharmed. The ministry's crisis committee was meeting to evaluate the situation, he said.
The Austrian contingent is part of a U.N. peacekeeping force that patrols the Golan, captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The Quneitra is the only crossing along the ceasefire line and primarily serves the U.N. peace keepers and Druse villagers moving between the Israeli- and Syrian-controlled Golan.
The Britain-based activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels attacked Syrian regime checkpoints and their armored vehicles, and took control of the crossing, located near the old city of Quneitra.
The activist group, which relies on a network on informants inside Syria, said there were intense clashes underway between regime forces and rebels in the area Thursday, and Assad's troops were shelling villages around the city. There were no immediate reports of casualties.