World Bulletin/News Desk
Some 75 Filipino members of the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces were involved in a fierce firefight Saturday with Syrian rebels after a two-day stand off in the Golan Heights, according to the Philippines defense secretary.
In a text message to reporters, Voltaire Gazmin confirmed that the Filipino soldiers "Position 68" came under attack from the Syrian rebels Saturday at around 6 a.m. local time.
Another batch of Filipino soldiers at "Position 69 has been extracted out of the danger zone,” he added. "But all of them are in high morale."
The incident occurred after the rebels - who have taken over the only crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan - seized 44 Fijian peacekeepers Thursday during fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces.
The rebels - who are believed to include members of the al-Nusra Front- then demanded that Filipinos manning the two nearby U.N. positions surrender their weapons. The Filipinos had refused.
Philippine military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala confirmed the fighting but refused to give more details.
He told DZBB radio station in the Philippines that all of the peacekeepers are safe.
Earlier Saturday, Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said the government had contingency plans in place for those locked in the standoff.
"There is a contingency plan, but we'll leave it to the military to speak on what are the possible next steps," she said. "Our men are holding their ground and we are all hoping that the tension will ease and that they will be brought home safely."
Valte added that “The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) continue to brief President Benigno Aquino III on a regular basis.”
In an earlier press statement, the Philippines army had confirmed that the Syrian anti-government armed elements had occupied positions previously held by the Fijians and demanded they surrender their firearms.
The U.N. has said in a statement that it had received assurances that the Fijians "are safe and in good health."
It added that it had been informed "the intention behind holding the peacekeepers was to remove them from an active battlefield to a safe area for their own protection."
There are currently 1,200 U.N. peacekeepers serving in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force - from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands.
The force has been stationed in the Golan Heights' buffer zone since 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Syria, which followed the 1967 six-day war.
During the initial fighting, Israel seized 460 square miles of the Heights, and then annexed it.
The international community has never recognized the move.
Last Mod: 30 Ağustos 2014, 16:09