NATION

Filipino United Nations Peacekeepers Escape Golan Standoff

Manila: Under cover of darkness, 40 Filipino peacekeepers made a daring escape after being surrounded and coming under fire by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights, the Philippine military chief
01 Sep 2014 07:12

Manila: Under cover of darkness, 40 Filipino peacekeepers made a daring escape after being surrounded and coming under fire by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights, the Philippine military chief said Sunday, while 44 Fijian troops remained in the hands of the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents.

After coming under rebel attack Saturday, the first group of 35 Filipino peacekeepers was successfully escorted out of a UN encampment in Breiqa by Irish and Filipino forces on board armored vehicles, Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang and other military officials said.

Another group of 40 Filipino troops had remained trapped at another encampment, called Rwihana, by more than 100 gunmen who rammed the camp’s gates with their trucks and fired mortar rounds after the Filipinos refused to surrender with their weapons. Surrounded and besieged, the Filipinos returned fire in self-defence, Philippine military officials said.

Syrian government forces fired artillery rounds from a distance at one point to prevent the Filipino peacekeepers from being overwhelmed, said Col. Roberto Ancan, a Philippine military official who helped monitor the tense Golan standoff from the Philippine capital, Manila, and mobilise support for the besieged troops.

“Although they were surrounded and outnumbered, they held their ground for seven hours,” Catapang said in a news conference in Manila, adding there were no Filipino casualties. “We commend our soldiers for exhibiting resolve even under heavy fire.”

The 40 Filipinos fled with their weapons from the Rwihana encampment under cover darkness overnight, traveling across the chilly hills for nearly two hours, before meeting up with other UN forces, which escorted them to safety early Sunday, Philippine officials said.

The clashes in the UN-patrolled zone erupted after Syrian rebel groups – including al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front – overran the Quneitra crossing on the frontier between Syrian and Israeli controlled parts of the Golan on Wednesday, seizing 44 Fijian peacekeepers.

The UN mission has 1223 troops from six countries: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines. A number of countries has withdrawn their peacekeepers due to the escalating violence.

Philippine officials said Filipino forces would remain in Golan until their mission ends in October, adding they would not be withdrawn prematurely following the rebel attacks and the capture of the Fijian peacekeepers.

Both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council strongly condemned Saturday’s attack on peacekeepers’ positions and the ongoing detention of the Fijian peacekeepers.

Ban demanded “the unconditional and immediate release of all the detained United Nations peacekeepers.” Security Council members, in a press statement, “insisted that UNDOF’s mandate, impartiality, operations, safety, and security must be respected.”

The Nusra Front has recently seized hostages to exchange for prisoners detained in Syria and Lebanon.

ynetnews.com

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