PH FORCES ATTACKED; SYRIAN REBELS FIRE AT 40 FILIPINO PEACEKEEPERS IN GOLAN HEIGHTS 

PHOTO: Close watch. A member of the United Nations Disengagement Force uses binoculars to monitor the Syrian side of the Golan Heights on August 30, 2014. Syrian rebels took control of the Quinetra checkpoint between the two countries and had engaged Philippine UN Peacekeepers in a firefight, according to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. AFPTHE stand-off involving Filipino peacekeepers at the Golan Heights in Syria turned into a shoot-out as Syrian rebels attacked the two fortified United Nations outposts on Saturday, officials said on Saturday. National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the 35 Filipino peacekeepers at Position 69 in the Syrian side of the 1973 Disengagement Line, near the Yarmouk River, were attacked around 6 a.m. Saturday (11 a.m. in Manila). But minutes after the attack, Irish peacekeepers on armed personnel carriers arrived to extricate the beleaguered Filipino troops through an escape route.

A few hours later, however, the Syrian rebels , including some linked to the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, attacked Position 68, manned by 40 Filipino peacekeepers. “The position 69 has already extricated, and only position 68 is now under attack,” Gazmin said in a text message to military reporters. “There was a firefight but I would like to assure everyone that our troops are safe at the moment,” said Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, adding that negotiations with the rebels are underway to give the besieged Filipinos safe passage. The peacekeepers were besieged by rebels on Thursday but defied demands that they give up their weapons. On Friday Syrian fighters took 43 Fijian soldiers hostage on the Golan Heights. According to Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte, President Benigno S. Aquino III is closely watching the situation in the Golan Heights. “The Armed Forces of the Philippines is in direct communication with the peacekeepers and with the UN Force Headquarters in Golan Heights, and are trying to resolve the situation peacefully,” Valte said in a statement over dzRB Radyo Ng Bayan. *READ MORE...

ALSO: Syrian rebels surround Filipino UN peacekeepers in Golan Heights 

PHOTO: Rebels have surrounded peacekeepers and demanded they give up their weapons,
hours after taking 43 Fijian soldiers hostage.  Syrian rebels surrounded dozens of defiant Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on Friday and demanded they give up their weapons, hours after taking 43 Fijian soldiers hostage, authorities said. Seventy-five Filipino members of a United Nations peacekeeping force were defending two posts on the Syrian side of Golan Heights, and were prepared to fight back rather than surrender, their commander in Manila said. "We can use deadly force in defence of the UN facilities," Colonel Roberto Ancan told reporters. "I [would] just like to emphasise our troops are well-armed, they are well-trained … they are well-disciplined warrior peacekeepers." Syrian rebels, including fighters from the al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusra Front, stormed a Golan Heights crossing at Quneitra on Wednesday, sparking an exchange of gunfire with Israeli troops.
Quneitra is the only crossing between the Syrian- and the Israeli-controlled side of the strategic plateau. The rebels captured 43 Fijian members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on Thursday, forcing them to surrender their weapons then taking them hostage. Ancan said the rebels then used an English-speaking Fijian hostage to relay their demand to the Filipino peacekeepers to give up their weapons. *READ MORE...

(ALSO) AFP: Pinoy peacekeepers safe; negotiations ongoing 

The Filipino peacekeepers who were engaged in a firefight with Syrian rebels in Golan Heights are safe, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said. In a report on GMA's “24 Oras” aired Saturday evening, AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala confirmed this and said negotiations are ongoing to deescalate the situation. “There was a firefight but I'd like to ensure everyone that our troops are safe at the moment,” Zagala said. He added that the AFP's main focus is the safety of the Filipino peacekeepers. Meanwhile, Col. Roberto Ancan, who commands the peacekeeping operations center in Tarlac, said they are in constant communication with the peacekeepers who have round-the-clock access to the Internet. Ancan also said they have enough supplies, ammunition, and equipment. According to the report, the firefight began around 6 a.m. (11 a.m. Philippine time) at Position 68 where 40 Filipino peacekeepers are stationed. Another 35 Filipino peacekeepers stationed at Position 69 but have already been extricated. — Andrei Medina/JDS, GMA News THIS IS THE FULL REPORT.

(ALSO) Palace: Gov’t has contingency plans for trapped PH peacekeepers  

Amid its hope that the tension in Syria is reduced, the government maintained that it has contingency plans for the Filipino peacekeepers trapped in a standoff with Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights, Malacanang said Saturday. “We have contingency plans but we would leave it to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said on state-run radio dzRB. “Our men are holding their ground and we are all hoping that the tension will ease and that they will be brought home safely,” she added. It was only last week that the Philippine government decided to recall its peacekeepers serving in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force due to the worsening security situation in the Middle East. The peacekeepers were only waiting for their end of duty in October. The AFP, however, said there’s no regret in their part in not pulling out troops in Golan Heights sooner despite the previous cases of abduction and the ongoing standoff between Filipino UN peacekeepers and armed Syrian rebels. AFP Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said it is an honor and pride for the Philippines to be deployed as UN peacekeepers because it shows that we can contribute to world peace and security. Valte, meanwhile, asked the public to pray for the safety of the Filipino peacekeepers. “Let us be one in praying and hoping that the tension in Golan Heights will de-escalate and that our soldiers will be brought home safely,” she said.*READ MORE...

(ALSO) AFP chief: No regrets not pulling out troops sooner in Golan Heights  

The Philippine military said there’s no regret in their part in not pulling out troops in
Golan Heights sooner despite the previous cases of abduction and the ongoing standoff between Filipino UN peacekeepers and armed Syrian rebels. “No [regrets], it’s an honor and pride for our country to be deployed as UN peacekeepers because it shows that we can contribute to world peace and security,” Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. told INQUIRER.net on Friday. It was only last week that the Philippine government decided to recall its peacekeepers serving in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force due to the worsening security situation in the Middle East. The peacekeepers were only waiting for their end of duty in October.

The government has also decided to pull out its troops in Liberia due to the outbreak of Ebola virus. The troops in Haiti will remain. On Thursday, Syrian rebels asked Fijian peacekeepers in Al Qunaytirah to surrender their firearms and later abducted 43 of them after doing so. The rebels headed to Filipino encampments in Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah to do the same, but the troops resisted to give up their firearms, which caused the ongoing standoff. There were 75 troops still trapped. The UN is still negotiating the release of the peacekeepers. Despite the incident, Catapang said they will still not pull out the Filipino peacekeepers immediately but will wait for them to finish their tour of duty in October. Last year, Filipino peacekeepers were also abducted by Syrian rebels in March and May but were eventually released unharmed. As of July, there are 1,223 peacekeepers from six countries serving in Golan Heights. The Philippines has been sending contingents to Golan Heights since 2009 as part of its commitment to the UN.THIS IS THE FULL REPORT

ALSO: Pinoy peacekeepers engage Syrian rebels in firefight 

Filipino United Nations peacekeepers in Golan Heights clashed yesterday with Syrian rebels who had given them an ultimatum to surrender their weapons and leave their positions or face attack. The attack by the rebels belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nushra Front began at 11 a.m. (Manila time) or 6 a.m. (Syrian time), Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters in Manila yesterday. The militants surrounded the Filipino garrison three days ago to force the peacekeepers to surrender their weapons. Gazmin said defense and military officials led by Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang were continuously monitoring the situation. He said the 72 Filipinos were in high spirits. The Filipinos were in positions called 68 and 69. Irish troops were able to secure a route for Filipino troops out of position 69.

“Naka extricate na ang 69 (position 69 was able to extricate) and only 68 now is under attack,” Gazmin said. “The troops’ morale is high.” Military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the troops were safe based on initial reports. He declined to give details. The military was supposed to hold a media briefing in the afternoon yesterday but called it off without giving reason. “We will just let you know. The priority really right now is the safety of our troops,” Zagala said. The Defense Force Ireland (DFI) said on its website that its forces “secured a route” and “provided security” to Filipino troops whom they “escorted” to UN forces headquarters in Camp Faouar. On Thursday, the rebels began surrounding the positions of the Filipino peacekeepers shortly after forcing the surrender of Fijian UN peacekeepers. *READ MORE...


READ FULL REPORT HERE:

PH forces attacked; Syrian rebels fire at Filipino positions in Golan heights


Close watch. A member of the United Nations Disengagement Force uses binoculars to monitor the Syrian side of the Golan Heights on August 30, 2014. Syrian rebels took control of the Quinetra checkpoint between the two countries and had engaged Philippine UN Peacekeepers in a firefight, according to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. AFPTHE stand-off involving Filipino peacekeepers at the Golan Heights in Syria turned into a shoot-out as Syrian rebels attacked the two fortified United Nations outposts on Saturday, officials said on Saturday.

MANILA, SEPTMEBR 1, 2014
(MANILA STANDARD)
 By Francisco Tuyay, Florante Solmerin  - National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the 35 Filipino peacekeepers at Position 69 in the Syrian side of the 1973 Disengagement Line, near the Yarmouk River, were attacked around 6 a.m. Saturday (11 a.m. in Manila).

But minutes after the attack, Irish peacekeepers on armed personnel carriers arrived to extricate the beleaguered Filipino troops through an escape route.

A few hours later, however, the Syrian rebels , including some linked to the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, attacked Position 68, manned by 40 Filipino peacekeepers.

“The position 69 has already extricated, and only position 68 is now under attack,” Gazmin said in a text message to military reporters.

“There was a firefight but I would like to assure everyone that our troops are safe at the moment,” said Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, adding that negotiations with the rebels are underway to give the besieged Filipinos safe passage.

The peacekeepers were besieged by rebels on Thursday but defied demands that they give up their weapons. On Friday Syrian fighters took 43 Fijian soldiers hostage on the Golan Heights.

According to Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte, President Benigno S. Aquino III is closely watching the situation in the Golan Heights.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines is in direct communication with the peacekeepers and with the UN Force Headquarters in Golan Heights, and are trying to resolve the situation peacefully,” Valte said in a statement over dzRB Radyo Ng Bayan.

* Valte said the government has contingency measures but they will leave it to the AFP to make a public announcement.

Meanwhile, Defense Undersecretary Natalio Ecarma, himself a former Marine major general who also served as a peacekeeper for the UN, said another group of 54 Filipino peacekeepers in Position 60 were pulled out to preempt another standoff.

“The situation now is getting more and more dangerous, Ecarma said. “We are willing to help keep the peace but not to the extent of risking their life.”

Asked how the soldiers should respond to imminent danger, Ecarma said it is natural for peacekeepers to defend themselves.

“We cannot go on the offensive because they are peacekeeping forces. What they are hoping for, the style of UN Disengagement Observer Force, is to negotiate not to confront in such a situation,” he said. “Unless the lives of the peacekeepers are at stake.”

The Syrian rebels stormed a Golan Heights crossing on Wednesday, sparking an exchange of gunfire with Israeli troops.

The rebels then captured 44 Fijian members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Syrian side on Thursday, forcing them to surrender their weapons and taking them hostage.

The rebels then used an English-speaking Fijian hostage to relay their demand to the Filipino peacekeepers to give up their weapons, but the Filipinos refused and said they will use deadly force to protect the UN facility.

In New York, UN officials have received assurances that the 44 peacekeepers from Fiki who were detained by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights are safe and in good health, a UN spokesman said Friday.

The United Nations did not say whether the 44 Fijian soldiers had been released, but a statement suggested progress was being made in negotiations to secure their freedom.

“The United Nations has received assurances from credible sources that 44 peacekeepers from UNDOF who were taken from their position... are safe and in good health,” said a statement from the spokesman.

“UNDOF has not yet had direct contact with the peacekeepers.”

It added that UNDOF officials had been “informed that the intention of those holding the peacekeepers was to remove them from an active battlefield to a safe area for their own protection.”

UNDOF has been in “regular contact” with 72 Filipino peacekeepers who were surrounded by the rebels on Thursday and who had refused to disarm. They too “have not been harmed and are in good health,” he added.

The UN revised an earlier figure from 43 to 44 Fijians and from 75 to 72 Filipinos after checking leave records with the mission.

UN officials have been negotiating to secure the release of the blue helmets with the armed groups and countries that may have influence over them.

The UN Security Council has demanded the “unconditional and immediate release” of the peacekeepers and urged countries with influence to help win their release.

There are currently 1,200 peacekeepers serving in UNDOF from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands. With AFP

FROM THE GUARDIAN.COM UK

Syrian rebels surround Filipino UN peacekeepers in Golan Heights  Agence France-Presse in Manila theguardian.com, Friday 29 August 2014 08.49 BST


Rebels have surrounded peacekeepers and demanded they give up their weapons, hours after taking 43 Fijian soldiers hostage

Syrian rebels surrounded dozens of defiant Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on Friday and demanded they give up their weapons, hours after taking 43 Fijian soldiers hostage, authorities said.

Seventy-five Filipino members of a United Nations peacekeeping force were defending two posts on the Syrian side of Golan Heights, and were prepared to fight back rather than surrender, their commander in Manila said.

"We can use deadly force in defence of the UN facilities," Colonel Roberto Ancan told reporters.

"I [would] just like to emphasise our troops are well-armed, they are well-trained … they are well-disciplined warrior peacekeepers."

Syrian rebels, including fighters from the al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusra Front, stormed a Golan Heights crossing at Quneitra on Wednesday, sparking an exchange of gunfire with Israeli troops.

Quneitra is the only crossing between the Syrian- and the Israeli-controlled side of the strategic plateau.

The rebels captured 43 Fijian members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on Thursday, forcing them to surrender their weapons then taking them hostage.

Ancan said the rebels then used an English-speaking Fijian hostage to relay their demand to the Filipino peacekeepers to give up their weapons.

* The Fijian prime minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, said on Friday that talks were under way to release the hostages, and they were believed to be safe.

"I want to assure the families of the soldiers we are doing everything possible to secure their safe return," he said.

"The latest information we have is that they are safe and I can say now that the negotiations for their release have already begun."

Bainimarama said Fiji was "united as a nation in praying for their safe return".

The UN security council strongly condemned the assaults against the peacekeepers, which it said were carried out by "terrorist groups and by members of non-state armed groups".

The council demanded the "unconditional and immediate release of all the detained United Nations peacekeepers" and urged countries with influence to help win their release.

The Philippine military said the soldiers were occupying two UNDOF posts about 2.5 miles apart.

The United Nations initially said 81 Filipinos were involved in the stand-off. However, Ancan said there were 75.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it was unclear which group had staged the attacks.

"Some groups are self-identified as affiliated to al-Nusra but we are not able to confirm," he said. However, the US state department said al-Nusra was definitely involved.

"The United States strongly condemns the detention of UN peacekeepers and ongoing violence targeting the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights by non-state armed groups, including UN security council-designated terrorist group al-Nusra Front," US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The United States demanded the "unconditional and immediate release" of the Fijian peacekeepers, the statement said.

The UNDOF has been stationed in the buffer zone of the Golan Heights since 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Syria and Israel.

Israel initially seized 460 square miles of the Golan Heights during the 1967 six-day war, then annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

There are currently 1,200 peacekeepers from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands.

Since the Syrian war erupted in 2011, the plateau has been tense, with a growing number of mostly stray rockets and mortar rounds hitting the Israeli side, prompting occasional armed responses.

The Philippines, which has 331 troops serving in UNDOF, announced on Saturday that it would pull out of the peace force because of security concerns.

Filipino defence officials said no fresh troops would be sent once the current batch of soldiers had returned from duty in October.

Last year, the Philippines said it was considering pulling its Golan peacekeepers out after 25 of them were kidnapped but later freed by Syrian rebels in two separate incidents.

In assessing the latest crisis, UN officials noted the safe release of the Filipino peacekeepers last year.

The Philippine president, Benigno Aquino, described the situation in the Golan Heights as tense but also sought to calm fears about the fate of the Filipino troops.

"So far, we should not worry. The news is that the situation looks stable," he said.

FROM GMA NEWS NETWORK

AFP: Pinoy peacekeepers safe; negotiations ongoing August 30, 2014 6:30pm 8 10 0 68

The Filipino peacekeepers who were engaged in a firefight with Syrian rebels in Golan Heights are safe, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said.

In a report on GMA's “24 Oras” aired Saturday evening, AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala confirmed this and said negotiations are ongoing to deescalate the situation.

“There was a firefight but I'd like to ensure everyone that our troops are safe at the moment,” Zagala said.

He added that the AFP's main focus is the safety of the Filipino peacekeepers.

Meanwhile, Col. Roberto Ancan, who commands the peacekeeping operations center in Tarlac, said they are in constant communication with the peacekeepers who have round-the-clock access to the Internet.

Ancan also said they have enough supplies, ammunition, and equipment.

According to the report, the firefight began around 6 a.m. (11 a.m. Philippine time) at Position 68 where 40 Filipino peacekeepers are stationed.

Another 35 Filipino peacekeepers stationed at Position 69 but have already been extricated. — Andrei Medina/JDS, GMA News

FROM THE INQUIRER

Palace: Gov’t has contingency plans for trapped PH peacekeepers By Nestor Corrales |INQUIRER.net2:50 pm | Saturday, August 30th, 2014


Armored vehicles from the UN peacekeepers of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, also known as UNDOF wait to cross from the Israeli controlled Golan Heights to Syria, AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines— Amid its hope that the tension in Syria is reduced, the government maintained that it has contingency plans for the Filipino peacekeepers trapped in a standoff with Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights, Malacanang said Saturday.

“We have contingency plans but we would leave it to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said on state-run radio dzRB.

“Our men are holding their ground and we are all hoping that the tension will ease and that they will be brought home safely,” she added.

It was only last week that the Philippine government decided to recall its peacekeepers serving in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force due to the worsening security situation in the Middle East. The peacekeepers were only waiting for their end of duty in October.

The AFP, however, said there’s no regret in their part in not pulling out troops in Golan Heights sooner despite the previous cases of abduction and the ongoing standoff between Filipino UN peacekeepers and armed Syrian rebels.

AFP Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said it is an honor and pride for the Philippines to be deployed as UN peacekeepers because it shows that we can contribute to world peace and security.

Valte, meanwhile, asked the public to pray for the safety of the Filipino peacekeepers.

“Let us be one in praying and hoping that the tension in Golan Heights will de-escalate and that our soldiers will be brought home safely,” she said.

* On Thursday, August 28, 75 Filipino peacekeepers were locked in a standoff with Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights.

The anti-Syrian government surrounded the encampments of the Philippine contingent and demanded Filipino peacekeepers to surrender their firearms.

The Filipino troops did not heed to their demands, which resulted in a standoff.

AFP chief: No regrets not pulling out troops sooner in Golan Heights By Frances Mangosing |INQUIRER.net1:40 am | Saturday, August 30th, 2014


Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr., and other military officials convene. AFP Public Affairs.

MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine military said there’s no regret in their part in not pulling out troops in Golan Heights sooner despite the previous cases of abduction and the ongoing standoff between Filipino UN peacekeepers and armed Syrian rebels.

“No [regrets], it’s an honor and pride for our country to be deployed as UN peacekeepers because it shows that we can contribute to world peace and security,” Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. told INQUIRER.net on Friday.

It was only last week that the Philippine government decided to recall its peacekeepers serving in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force due to the worsening security situation in the Middle East. The peacekeepers were only waiting for their end of duty in October.

The government has also decided to pull out its troops in Liberia due to the outbreak of Ebola virus. The troops in Haiti will remain.

On Thursday, Syrian rebels asked Fijian peacekeepers in Al Qunaytirah to surrender their firearms and later abducted 43 of them after doing so. The rebels headed to Filipino encampments in Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah to do the same, but the troops resisted to give up their firearms, which caused the ongoing standoff. There were 75 troops still trapped.

The UN is still negotiating the release of the peacekeepers.

Despite the incident, Catapang said they will still not pull out the Filipino peacekeepers immediately but will wait for them to finish their tour of duty in October.

Last year, Filipino peacekeepers were also abducted by Syrian rebels in March and May but were eventually released unharmed.

As of July, there are 1,223 peacekeepers from six countries serving in Golan Heights. The Philippines has been sending contingents to Golan Heights since 2009 as part of its commitment to the UN.

Pinoy peacekeepers engage Syrian rebels in firefight By Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 31, 2014 - 12:00am 8 410 googleplus0 0


POSTED AUGUST 31, 2014: Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, and AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. lead the online video conference with 7th Philippine Contingent to Golan Heights at Camp Aguinaldo yesterday.

MANILA, Philippines - Filipino United Nations peacekeepers in Golan Heights clashed yesterday with Syrian rebels who had given them an ultimatum to surrender their weapons and leave their positions or face attack.

The attack by the rebels belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nushra Front began at 11 a.m. (Manila time) or 6 a.m. (Syrian time), Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters in Manila yesterday.

The militants surrounded the Filipino garrison three days ago to force the peacekeepers to surrender their weapons.

Gazmin said defense and military officials led by Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang were continuously monitoring the situation. He said the 72 Filipinos were in high spirits. The Filipinos were in positions called 68 and 69.

Irish troops were able to secure a route for Filipino troops out of position 69.

“Naka extricate na ang 69 (position 69 was able to extricate) and only 68 now is under attack,” Gazmin said. “The troops’ morale is high.”

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the troops were safe based on initial reports. He declined to give details.

The military was supposed to hold a media briefing in the afternoon yesterday but called it off without giving reason.

“We will just let you know. The priority really right now is the safety of our troops,” Zagala said.

The Defense Force Ireland (DFI) said on its website that its forces “secured a route” and “provided security” to Filipino troops whom they “escorted” to UN forces headquarters in Camp Faouar.

On Thursday, the rebels began surrounding the positions of the Filipino peacekeepers shortly after forcing the surrender of Fijian UN peacekeepers.

* Through an English-speaking Fijian officer, the rebels who were holding hostage the 44 Fijian peacekeepers ordered the Filipino troops to lay down their weapons and surrender.

The Filipino soldiers refused to surrender, saying they were prepared to repel any attack from the militants.

One of the Filipino peacekeepers – an Army corporal – was quoted by his superior officer back home as saying that they would rather fight than surrender to the rebels who were known for their brutality.

“Eh kung kapwa Muslim brothers and sisters nila ay pinagpapatay nila ano ang assurance namin (They kill even their own Muslim brothers and sisters so what assurance do we have that they will spare us)?”

Fighting erupted even as the UN was reportedly negotiating for a peaceful end to the standoff.

Several UN-member states have reportedly been tapped to help resolve the crisis.

The Filipino peacekeepers are part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Golan Heights, a troubled border area between Israel and Syria.

Yesterday’s fighting came just two months before the end of the Filipino peacekeepers tour of duty in Golan Heights. Col. Roberto Ancan, commander of the military’s peacekeeping operations center based in Tarlac, said the soldiers deployed in the Golan are well trained and highly motivated to defend their positions.

“I just like to emphasize that our troops are well armed, they are well trained. They are well disciplined warrior-peacekeepers,” Ancan said.

‘Safe and in good health’

The UN, meanwhile, 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,” Bishop said in a statement.

Bishop said she telephoned Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola to express Australia’s strong support, including use of its intelligence resources.

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 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.

The world body also told the media that the UNDOF has not yet had direct contact with the Fijian peacekeepers.

According to the UN, the force has been in regular contact with the 72 Filipino peacekeepers and can confirm they have not been harmed and are in good health.

“The United Nations is engaging – continues to engage – with a wide range of parties within Syria, and is making every effort to ensure the safety and security of its personnel,” UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said.

“The UN is also engaging with member states who may have influence over armed opposition elements to encourage the safe release of the peacekeepers,” Dujarric added.

Peacekeepers serving with UNDOF were monitoring the 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war. – Pia Lee-Brago, AP


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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