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June 06, 2013

Syrian Army Retakes Golan Crossing

by VOA News

Syrian government troops have recaptured a U.N.-manned crossing along the cease-fire line with Israel in the Golan Heights just hours after reports indicated Syrian rebels had briefly seized the area.

Several hours after rebels took the Quneitra transit point Thursday, Israeli security sources said the Syrian army had recaptured it.

The rarely-used crossing is the only one that exists between Syrian and Israeli-controlled areas in what is a U.N.-monitored disengagement zone. Witnesses reported heavy clashes on the Syrian side and said facilities were badly damaged.

As the fighting rages, the Austrian government said it will withdraw its peacekeepers from the U.N.'s Golan mission. Austrians make up about 380 of the 1,000-strong United Nations Disengagement Observer Force.

Israel said Thursday it regrets Austria's decision and hopes the move will not lead to further escalation of the conflict along the Syrian frontier.

A U.N. spokeswoman said the withdrawal will affect the operational capacity of the mission and that it is discussing the timing of the move and seeking replacement troops. The U.N. force has patrolled the disengagement zone between Syrian and Israeli-held territory in the Golan Heights for decades.

Israel is worried that the Golan could become a springboard for attacks on Israelis by hardline Islamist fighters, who are taking part in the armed struggle against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri urged Sunni Muslims to join the battle in Syria, overthrow President Bashar Assad and set up Islamist rule in the country.
 
In a 22-minute recording posted on Islamist websites, Zawahri called on Sunnis everywhere to devote their lives, money and expertise to the fight and thwart what he called U.S. plans to set up a client state in Syria to safeguard Israel's security.

He urged Sunnis to "rise above their differences" and fight expanding Shi'ite influence in Syria.

Also Thursday, the European Union committed another $526 million in humanitarian aid to Syria and its neighbors to deal with the worsening crisis. States neighboring Syria have struggled to deal with a huge influx of refugees.

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