All Filipino UN Peacekeepers in Golan Safe

Saturday, 30 Aug 2014 10:40 PM

 

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All 75 Filipino troops serving as UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights are now safe after the last batch slipped away under cover of night from besieging Syrian rebels, military spokesmen said Sunday.

"Everyone is in a safe position. We left our (old) position but we brought all our arms," said Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala.

An initial group of 35 Filipino troops were picked up from their position by UN armoured vehicles on Saturday after Syrian rebels attacked their comrades positioned about four kilometers (two-and-a-half miles) away, said Zagala.

The remaining 40 soldiers engaged the Syrian rebels in a "seven-hour firefight", but later walked to safety to a UN position just over two kilometers away, he added.

They later moved to Camp Ziouani behind UN lines, he said.

"There is no more standoff. All are safe," Zagala told AFP.

The troops, burdened by their equipment and the cold weather, walked for about an hour and 40 minutes in the dark to reach safety, he said in Manila.

In a statement, Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang said the Syrian and Israeli governments had supported the Filipinos in upholding "the integrity of the area of separation".

He also credited the US and Qatar governments for helping safeguard the blue helmets but did not elaborate on their role.

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United Nations will not compromise the safety and security of our troops while in the pursuit of their duties. It is in our national interest to prioritize their safety without abandoning our commitment to international security," he said.

The Filipino peacekeepers were besieged by rebels Thursday but defied demands that they give up their weapons.

Rebels, including some linked to Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, also took hostage 44 Fijian peacekeepers, the UN has said.

Asked what the Filipino peacekeepers would do now, Zagala said "we continue our mission. Our commitment is still there".

On August 23, the Philippine Defense Department announced that it would withdraw the 331-strong Filipino contingent serving as part of the United Nations Disengagement Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights at the end of their tour of duty in October due to the worsening security situation.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six-Day War, then annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

The UN peacekeeping force has been stationed there since 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

 

 

© AFP 2014

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