32 Filipino peacekeepers evacuated, others under attack: UN

A handout photo taken in October 2013 and released by Philippine Armed Forces public affairs office on August 29, 2014 shows officers and men of the 7th Philippine peacekeeping force bound for the Golan Heights posing for photos during their send-off
A handout photo taken in October 2013 and released by Philippine Armed Forces public affairs office on August 29, 2014 shows officers and men of the 7th Philippine peacekeeping force bound for the Golan Heights posing for photos during their send-off ceremony at the army heradquarters in Manila. Nearly three dozen UN peacekeepers from the Philippines who had been surrounded for days by Islamist militants on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights were rescued during a firefight on Saturday, UN officials said. -- PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - Thirty-two Filipino United Nations peacekeepers have been evacuated after being caught up in heavy fighting on the Golan Heights while others remain under fire, the UN confirmed Saturday.

The group was part of a 72-member contingent situated in two different locations in the area.

Those remaining are currently still under fire, preventing them from being moved out, the UN said in a statement issued from its New York headquarters.

“The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) reports that, early this morning, UN Position 69 was fired upon by armed elements,” the UN said in a statement issued from its New York headquarters.

“The Mission’s Force Reaction Group has been deployed to the position and all 32 Filipino personnel from this position have been extricated and are now safe.”

The statement said another position was also attacked by “armed elements” with mortar and heavy machine gun fire and that the peacekeepers returned fire and prevented the attackers from entering.

That position “is currently under fire, preventing the personnel from moving out,” it added.

There are no reported casualties among UN personnel, the statement said.

However, “we are still working towards the safe release of the detained 44 Fijian peacekeepers,” it added.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, UN soldiers said earlier that part of the encircled Filipino contingent had been brought out and that others were no longer in rebel hands but awaiting better security conditions so they could enter the Israeli-controlled part of the plateau.

In Manila, Philippines Defence Minister Voltaire Gazmin said UN peacekeepers had clashed with Syrian rebels.

Gazmin said in an SMS statement to reporters that the Filipino troops had been “extricated” from one of their two positions but added that another group of Filipino soldiers “is now under attack.”

The peacekeepers were besieged by rebels Thursday but defied demands that they give up their weapons.

Rebels, including some linked to Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, also took hostage 44 Fijian peacekeepers, the UN has said.

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