Middle East

Philippine peacekeepers rescued in Syria's Golan Heights

Smoke rises from the Syrian Golan Heights during clashes between Syrian rebels and government forces on 28 August 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption There has been heavy fighting in the Quneitra area of the Syrian Golan Heights in recent days

Thirty-two Philippine peacekeepers trapped by rebels in the Syrian Golan Heights have been rescued, the UN says.

A UN spokesperson said the "situation on the ground is calm but tense", without providing further details.

Another group of 40 peacekeepers escaped a seven-hour siege by rebels after returning fire in self-defence, said the head of the Philippines army.

The rebels - said to be from the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front - have taken 44 Fijian peacekeepers captive.

They have also seized a crossing point into the Israeli-occupied Golan.

Worsening security

"Everyone is in a safe position. We left our (old) position but we brought all our arms," said Philippine Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala.

The head of the Philippine armed forces, General Gregorio Pio Catapang, speaking Manila, said: "We may call it the greatest escape."

The Fijian members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) were detained on Wednesday near Quneitra, during fighting between rebels and government forces.

An online statement posted by the Nusra Front said the Fijians "are in a safe place, and they are in good health, and that we have given them what they need of food and treatment".

It said the peacekeepers had been seized because the UN ignored "the daily shedding of the Muslims' blood in Syria".

Last week the Philippine government said it would bring home its 331 peacekeeping troops from the Golan Heights in October, amid deteriorating security there.

Israel seized most of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau in south-western Syria, during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The two countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which Undof was put in place to monitor the demilitarised zone.

It has 1,224 lightly-armed military personnel from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines.

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