December 20, 2014
UN Philippines peacekeepers rescued from militants in Golan
Thirty-two UN peacekeepers were rescued today from Islamist militants who fired at their post on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights and trapped them for two days, the United Nations said.
Another group of UN soldiers - also from the Philippines - remained trapped by the Islamists, who surrounded their positions on Thursday, and a gunbattle was continuing, the UN press office said. There was no immediate word on whether there were casualties.
The troops are part of UNDOF, a UN force that has monitored the disengagement zone between Israel and Syria since 1974, following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
A Reuters cameraman spotted 11 UN armoured vehicles returning to their base in Israeli-controlled territory about 12 hours after the peacekeepers came under fire at around 6 am (0400 GMT).
"All 32 Filipino personnel from this position have been extricated and are now safe," the United Nations press office said in a statement issued in New York.
The remaining troops, at a separate border post, were still under mortar and heavy machinegun fire, the statement said.
"The UN peacekeepers returned fire and prevented the attackers from entering the position," it said. Officials in the Philippines have said there were a total of 72 soldiers trapped in the area.
Another 44 UNDOF peacekeepers, from Fiji, were detained by militants 8 km (5 miles) away from the Philippine troops on Thursday and remain missing.
A UN official said a number of UNDOF contingents participated in the action today, assisted by Israeli and Syrian forces. It was unclear what form that assistance took.
UNDOF has 1,223 peacekeepers in the zone from six countries - Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines.
Asked how Israel intends to meet the new challenge in the Golan area, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Channel 10 television in an interview recorded on Friday and aired today Israel was prepared to face the threats.
"We have already taken steps. We did not wait, we built and renovated the security fence. Al Nusra has been present there for about the past five months. We are prepared for various possibilities," he said.
He added that the current situation was a manifestation of the volatility of the region.
"We live in a tough Middle East, in a tough area, and compared with other countries, we are taking care of our security and economy better than everyone. But we face challenges on a number of fronts," he said.