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Armed group detains 43 peacekeepers in Syria, UN says

Soldiers of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), stand on an observation tower overlooking Syria and located on the Israeli side of the 1973 Golan Heights ceasefire line with Syria March 21, 2012.

RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

The United Nations says 43 peacekeepers have been detained by an armed group in Syria during fighting and 81 other peacekeepers are trapped.

The office of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the peacekeepers were detained early Thursday on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights during a "period of increased fighting between armed elements and the Syrian Arab Armed Forces."

The statement says an additional 81 peacekeepers are "currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah."

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The Ki-moon's office did not identify the armed group that was holding the peacekeepers. Several rebel groups operate in the Golan, while the Islamic State group has no known presence there.

"We are dealing with non-state armed actors," the spokesman for the UN secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters in New York.

"We're not in a position to confirm who is holding whom. Some groups self-identified as being affiliated with al-Nusra, however, we are unable to confirm it," Dujarric said, referring to the al-Qaeda-linked group, al-Nusra Front.

He said the 43 detained peacekeepers were from Fiji while 81 troops from the Philippines have had their movements restricted.

The Syrian government denounced the "kidnapping" of the UN peacekeepers and called for their immediate release.

The statement from Ban's office said the UN was "making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers," who are part of UNDOF, the mission that has been monitoring a 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war.

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