Two groups of UN peacekeepers have evaded capture by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights, military sources have said, after one group was rescued and another slipped away from their besieged position.
Syrian rebels on Saturday had surrounded two groups of Filipino soldiers working for a UN observer force, days after capturing a group of 44 Fijian soldiers also working for the UN.
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Early on Sunday, a group of 40 Filipinos slipped away from Syrian rebels who had surrounded “position 68” near Rwihinah. Their escape came hours after another group of 32 Filipinos were rescued from “position 69” under heavy fire from unidentified fighters.
“Everyone is in a safe position. We left our position but we brought all our arms,” said Ramon Zagala, a lieutenant colonel in the Philippine army. “There is no more standoff. All are safe.”
A UN diplomatic source said that Syrian rebels had attempted to bolster their forces around “position 68” in the hours before the UN troops escaped.
The Reuters news agency quoted a UN diplomatic source as saying a convoy of 20 rebel vehicles had approached the area.
Another 44 Fijian soldiers were captured by rebels on Thursday at the Quneitra crossing, in an operation the US said was lead by the Al Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s primary affiliate in the war in Syria.
Al Nusra publicised the photos of the captive UN peacekeepers on Saturday.
In its statement, the group criticised the UN of putting Nusra under chapter 7, which means that the group is deemed a “threat to peace” and that military action can be taken towards it.
Al Nusra also accused the UN of not taking actions against Syrian regime crimes, adding that capture of peacekeepers was a retiliation to “the UN crimes against Syrian people”.
The group confirmed that the detainees were in good health and save.
Rebels attacked the Quneitra crossing on Wednesday, which led to an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers and ultimate the capture of the Fijians.
The UN said on Saturday it was told the Fijians were safe, and their captors stated they were taken “for their own safety”.
The troops are part of the UN disengaement observer force, which has monitored the disengagement zone between Israel and Syria since 1974, following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.