MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine military chief says more than 70 Filipino peacekeepers have escaped from two areas in the Golan Heights that came under attack by Syrian rebels.
Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said today in Manila that the Filipino peacekeepers separately moved to positions that were safely away from any further threat.
Clashes erupted between al-Qaida-linked Syrian rebels and U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on Saturday after the militants surrounded their encampment, activists and officials said, as the international organization risked being sucked further into the conflict.
Other U.N. peacekeepers were able to flee from a different encampment that was also surrounded by rebels of the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, they said. The clashes came after Syrian rebel groups, including the Nusra Front, overran the Quneitra crossing – located on the border between Syrian- and Israeli-controlled parts of the Golan Heights – on Wednesday, seizing 44 Fijian peacekeepers.
The gunbattle began early Saturday at the Rwihana base some 1.5 miles from Quneitra, where 40 Filipino peacekeepers were surrounded by Nusra fighters who were ordering them to surrender, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Abdurrahman, whose information comes from a network of activists throughout Syria, said he was not aware of any fatalities among the 40 Filipino peacekeepers in the Rwihana encampment.
The U.N. mission, known as UNDOF, has 1,223 troops from six countries: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines.