December 18, 2014
Fighting erupts between Syrian army, rebels on Golan Heights
Heavy fighting between the Syrian army and Islamist rebels erupted today on the Golan Heights, where the militants have wrested control of a key frontier crossing which had been operated by the United Nations.
It was not clear whether the forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had managed to retake control of the Quneitra crossing from the rebels of the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
Persistent gunshots and explosions from mortar shells and other munitions could be heard on the Israeli-controlled side of the frontier and combatants could be clearly seen targeting each other with their weapons.
At least one tank belonging to the Syrian army was also involved and some rebels could be seen a few meters (yards) away from the frontier fence.
A large Syrian flag that had been flying for days between the Quneitra crossing and the abandoned town was taken down and a United Nations position in the area, thought to be unmanned, was pounded with mortar shells.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in the Syrian civil war, said the Nusra Front and allied fighters were battling government forces near the Quneitra crossing and in the nearby village of al-Hmaydieh.
The Observatory, which says it gathers information from all sides in the conflict, said there were confirmed casualties on both sides.
Speaking to Reuters, Observatory founder Rami Abdelrahman said the Nusra Front's aim appeared to be "to end once and for all the regime's presence in the area and it also appears that the goal is to expel the international observers".