A Russian TV crew came under fire in Syria when a mainly civilian convoy taking the journalists to the Golan Heights was shelled by Syrian rebels.
The convoy shelled on Saturday was led by a Syrian army military vehicle, and consisted of several cars occupied by civilians, including one with Russian TV journalists.
The shelling started when the cars were about 5 kilometers away from their destination – ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ – the only crossing between Syria and the Golan Heights, disputed territory claimed by both Syria and Israel.
“The Syrian troops started to fight the rebels back, but the insurgents targeted the civilian cars,” said Evgeny Poddubny, the head of the Russian TV crew and special correspondent for Rossiya TV channel.
Throughout the fighting, a Russian cameraman kept filming; gunshots can be heard on the video for 15 minutes. The footage also features a Syrian army officer reporting to command that armed militants attacked first, that shelling was coming from both sides of the road.
“The convoy could not make it to the checkpoint, the rebels set an ambush on the road, fighting broke out, the military responded with heavy fire to cover the retreat of our TV crew, and then they retreated themselves. The militants were further confronted by the field artillery, which is deployed in the area,” Poddubny said.
No one was injured in the attack. A similar incident occurred recently in the Golan Heights buffer zone when Checkpoint Charlie was attacked and seized by rebels on Thursday, and quickly recaptured by government troops.
“The militants use the status of the territory; they hide in the buffer zone and are carrying out attacks like the one you’ve just witnessed. Then they retreat. And we cannot carry out special operations here – as that would be a breach of international agreements. Besides, the rebels are getting help from Israel – it supplies them with ammunition and even provides medical aid to terrorists in mobile hospitals,” Syrian army General Nasr Haidar, whose regiment is deployed in the area, told Rossiya.
Provocations by the insurgents are seen as major reason why international peacekeepers have been withdrawing from the area. Austrian troops, which accounted for 40 percent of the UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, have announced their withdrawal.
This week, Russia proposed to replace Austrian UN peacekeepers on the Israel-Syria border. However, the mandate of the UN mission would not allow Russia’s participation.