EIN ZIVAN: Thirty-two UN peacekeepers were rescued on Saturday 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 armored vehicles returning to their base in Israeli-controlled territory about 12 hours after the peacekeepers came under fire at around 6 a.m. (12 a.m. ET) on Saturday.
“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 on Saturday, 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.
The United Nations said this week the Philippines had decided to pull out of UNDOF and from a UN force in Liberia, which is struggling with an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
Blue-helmeted UN troops were seized by militants in March and May 2013. In both cases they were released safely.
Austria, Japan and Croatia have all pulled their troops out of UNDOF due to the deteriorating security situation and spillover from the Syrian war.
The Golan is a strategic plateau captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, and Syria and Israel technically remain at war. UNDOF monitors the area of separation, a narrow strip of land running about 70 km (45 miles) from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan.
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