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UN peacekeepers in Syria freed in firefight

Thirty-two Filipino peacekeepers seized by unidentified fighters in Israeli-occupied Golan Heights rescued, UN says.

Last updated: 31 Aug 2014 00:14
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Thirty-two UN peacekeepers from the Philippines have been rescued from unidentified fighters who had attacked their post on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, the UN has said.

But another group of peacekeepers, also from the Philippines, remained trapped by the fighters, and a gun battle was ongoing, the UN press office said on Saturday.

"All 32 Filipino personnel from this position have been extricated and are now safe," the UN said in a statement, adding that the remaining troops, at a seperate border post, were still under mortar and machine gun fire.

"The UN peacekeepers returned fire and prevented the attackers from entering the position," it said. Officials in the Philippines told Reuters news agency that there was a total of 72 peacekeepers trapped in the area.

The UN mission, known as UNDOF, has nearly 12,000 troops from six countries - Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines - who monitor the line between the Israeli-occupied area and Syrian-held area of the Golan Heights.

There were 40 Filipino troops in the encampment that came under attack, and 35 in the second, according to the Philippines military.

Al Jazeera's Mike Hannah, reporting from West Jerusalem, said: "At about 6am local time, one of the UN bases in the disengagement zone came under fire. It's not clear who was firing on the personnel at that particular base. However, the UN Rapid Deployment Force secured the route to this isolated base."

"They then moved through the route reaching the peacekeepers in the base itself safely extracting them and moving them out along the secured route back into the main UN base, which is in the Israel-occupied part of the Golan Heights."

The UN said that there were no casualties.

The unidentified fighters had also seized 44 Fijian peacekeepers on Thursday. The Fijian peacekeepers were captured at their post about eight kilometres away from the Philippine troops.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from West Jerusalem, said that there was no news on the fate of the Fijian contingent. 

"Up until now the UN have been relying on negotiations to try and get the Fijians out, but as it seems, the troops from the Philippines were released as a result of military action," said our correspondent.

She added that there was little detail available on who was involved in the fight. 

The Golan is a strategic plateau captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, and Syria and Israel technically remain at war over the disputed region.

UNDOF monitors the area of separation, a narrow strip of land running about 70 kilometres from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan.

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