There have been no reports of casualties in the extrication of 32 Filipino peacekeepers captured by rebel-affiliated militants in the Golan Heights, where Syria’s civil war spilled over earlier this week. On Thursday, the rebels had detained 43 Fijian members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and surrounded more than 70 Filipino soldiers manning two posts on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
In a statement sent to reporters via text message on Saturday, Philippine Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin said that one group had been “extricated” from their position, but that soldiers in the second group were
engaged in a gun battle. The assault comes after about 150 rebel-affiliated fighters in Syria’s civil war overran a UN post on Thursday morning
and seized 43 Fijian soldiers.
Earlier Saturday, the head of Filipino troops on UN missions, Colonel Roberto Ancan, told the news agency AFP that the rebels had then sent back an English-speaking Fijian hostage to relay a demand for peacekeepers to surrender their weapons, but they refused. The rebels then encircled the two camps.
According to the UN,
groups affiliated with al Qaeda, including the Nusra Front, were behind the abductions. In a statement released Friday, UN officials had said that they were negotiating the freeing of the Fijian forces and added that they’d “received assurances from credible sources” that the peacekeepers were “safe and in good health,” but had not had contact with them.
The UNDOF draws its troops come from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines and has been monitoring a 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel following their 1973 war.
mkg/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)