Syria: Rebels attack UN peacekeepers

Syrian rebels holding dozens of Fijian UN peacekeepers hostage have attacked Filipino troops in the Golan Heights, Philippine officials said.

Syria: Rebels attack UN peacekeepers

A contingent of Philippine UN Peacekeepers march past the grandstand during a turnover-of-command ceremony for the new Armed Forces chief at Camp Aguinaldo at suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. Picture: AP

Syrian rebels holding dozens of Fijian UN peacekeepers hostage have attacked Filipino troops in the Golan Heights, Philippine officials said.

Philippine peacekeepers at one UN encampment were attacked, but those at another were “extricated”, defence secretary Voltaire Gazmin said, adding that the attack started early today Syrian time.

Irish soldiers in the Golan Heights are involved in an ongoing operation to support the UN outposts.

Philippine military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said: “There is an ongoing firefight, but all Filipinos are safe.”

There were 40 Filipino troops in the encampment that came under attack, and 35 in the second, according to the Philippine military.

The Syrian rebels seized 44 Fijian peacekeepers on Thursday. The rebels then demanded that the 75 Filipinos manning two separate UN encampments 2.5 miles apart surrender their weapons, but they refused.

The situation of the peacekeepers, whose mission monitors a 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel, remains “very, very fluid”, the UN secretary-general’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric, said.

U.N. peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, also known as UNDOF, observe Syria's Quneitra province at an observation point on Mt. Bental in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Picture: AP

The UN said in a statement that it had received assurances from credible sources that the Fijian peacekeepers “are safe and in good health”.

The statement added that they 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”.

In Australia, Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop condemned the detention of the Fijian peacekeepers and 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.

Ms Bishop said she telephoned Fijian prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama and foreign minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola to express Australia’s strong support, including Australia’s intelligence resources.

Ms Bishop also said she assured them that Australia will use its position on the UN Security Council to maintain focus on this issue.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon also has condemned the detention of the Fijians and called for their immediate release.

The UN mission, known as UNDOF, has 1,223 troops from six countries: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines.

But the Philippine government said last week that it would bring home its 331 peacekeeping forces from the Golan Heights after their tour of duty ends in October, amid deteriorating security in the area.

Various Syrian rebel groups have been engaged in intense fighting with the Syrian military in and near the Golan Heights.

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