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September 24, 2021

Syria conflict: Army ‘retakes Golan Heights crossing’

The Syrian army has taken control of a UN-monitored crossing in the Golan Heights which had been overrun by rebel forces, Israeli military sources say according to the BBC. Tanks and armoured vehicles were used in the raid at Quneitra, near Israeli-held territory. The fighting came a day after Syrian troops – backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants – retook the key town of Qusair after a three-week siege.
The battle for Qusair has highlighted Hezbollah’s growing role in the crisis. Amid heightened sectarian tensions in the wider region, the US has called on Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah to withdraw fighters from Syria.
Hezbollah – or the Party of God – is a political and military organisation in Lebanon made up mainly of Shia Muslims. It emerged with financial backing from Iran in the early 1980s and has always been a close ally of Syria’s president. Several rockets landed in the Hezbollah stronghold of Baalbek inside Lebanon late on Wednesday – after rebel threats to strike at Hezbollah on its home turf. On the international front, France said growing proof of chemical weapons use in Syria “obliges the international community to act”. However, President Francois Hollande cautioned: “We can only act within the framework of international law.” As the battle for Qusair raged, fighting was continuing in most other parts of Syria, especially around the capital Damascus, where regime forces are trying to push the rebels back from the suburbs, says the BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut.
There were fierce clashes earlier on Thursday in the Golan Heights, close to the ceasefire line with Israel, which captured part of the plateau in 1967 and later annexed it in a move that has not been recognised by the international community.  Rebels seized a ceasefire line crossing near the old city of Quneitra, with explosions and heavy shelling rocking the area. But an Israeli military source said Syrian regime forces retook the symbolically significant crossing hours later and that it was now relatively quiet in the area.
The Syrian military used tanks and armoured personnel carriers in its operation which was technically in violation of a ceasefire agreement with Israel, but no action was being taken, the source told the BBC.
The UN peacekeeping force which normally patrols the demilitarised zone is said to be following developments closely.  Austrian UN peacekeepers who usually patrol the area earlier pulled back unharmed, said Austrian defence ministry spokesman Col Michael Bauer. Israeli officials have increasingly voiced fears the civil war in Syria could spill over their borders. They are worried the Golan Heights could be used to launch attacks against Israel, due to the number of Islamist extremists among the rebel forces.

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