BEIRUT (AP) -- Clashes erupted between al-Qaida-linked Syrian rebels and U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on Saturday after the militants surrounded their encampment, activists and officials said, as the international organization risked being sucked further into the conflict.<br />
Other U.N. peacekeepers were able to flee from a different encampment that that was also surrounded by rebels of the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate, they said.<br />
The clashes came after Syrian rebel groups, including the Nusra Front, overran the Quneitra crossing - located on the frontier between Syrian and Israeli controlled parts of the Golan Heights - on Wednesday, seizing 44 Fijian peacekeepers.<br />
The Nusra Front also surrounded the nearby Rwihana and Breiqa encampments, where other U.N. peacekeepers were holed up.<br />
The gunbattle began early Saturday at the Rwihana base some 1.5 miles (2.3 kilometers) from Quneitra, where 40 Filipino peacekeepers were surrounded by Nusra fighters who were ordering them to surrender, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Philippines' Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin gave a similar account but did not name the armed group.<br />
Abdurrahman, whose information comes from a network of activists throughout Syria, said he was not aware of any fatalities among the 40 Filipino peacekeepers in the Rwihana encampment as sporadic fighting continued throughout the day. A Philippine military spokesman, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, also said there were no casualties.
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
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