UN peacekeepers on Syria-Israel border attacked by Islamist militants

Armed Filipino troops manning two UN encampments in the Golan Heights have come under fire from al-Qa'ida-affiliated rebels, who on Thursday also captured 44 Fijian UN peacekeepers

Natasha Culzac
Saturday 30 August 2014 16:14
Smoke from an explosion billows from the Syrian-controlled portion of Golan Heights on 29 August
Smoke from an explosion billows from the Syrian-controlled portion of Golan Heights on 29 August

Filipino troops serving as peacekeepers have been attacked by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights, an official has confirmed, two days after 44 Fijian peacekeepers were captured.

The Islamist fighters reportedly made the assault early this morning, at 6am Syrian time, following a day-long standoff.

After seizing the Fijian United Nations observers on Thursday, the rebels then demanded 75 Filipinos protecting two separate UN encampments to surrender – they refused.

The two camps are roughly 2.5miles apart – the one that came under attack had 40 Filipino troops, while the other had 35, the latter group was “extricated”, according to Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

There have been no reported casualties as yet, with Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, a military spokesman, advising: “There is an ongoing firefight, but all Filipinos are safe.”

The 44 Fijian peacekeepers still in captivity are said to be “safe and in good health”, according to the UN, though their situation remains “very, very fluid”, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The workers are part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which was established in 1974 to maintain a ceasefire between Israeli and Syrian forces.

According to the UN, there are currently 1,223 peacekeepers in the force from six countries – Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines.

Golan Heights is Israeli-controlled, with Israel now taking up positions at crossings into Syria including at Quneitra, which is just 400metres from where the militants, from al-Qa'ida-affiliated group Nusra Front, captured the UN peacekeepers.

UNDOF has reportedly been informed by the Islamist militants that they are detaining the Fijian peacekeepers to “remove them from an active battlefield to a safe area for their own protection”.

A car leaves the main UN headquarters next to the Quneitra crossing, the only border crossing between Israel and Syria

The rebels surrounded the UN camps, which are in the demilitarised zone straddling the Israeli-occupied section of the Golan Heights and that of Syria, on Wednesday, after over-running the Quneitra crossing.

The Philippine's Colonel Roberto Ancan said yesterday: “I [would] just like to emphasise our troops are well-armed, they are well-trained… they are well-disciplined warrior peacekeepers”, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has condemned their capture and has called for their release.

“As a member of the UN Security Council, Australia demands the unconditional and immediate release of all the detained United Nations peacekeepers,” she said.

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