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Dozens of UN peacekeepers still held by Syrian jihadists

© Ahmad Gharabli, AFP | A UN peacekeeper on the Israeli-Syrian border

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-08-31

A number of the Filipino UN peacekeepers encircled by jihadists linked to al-Qaeda on the Syrian side of the border with Israel in the Golan Heights were rescued amid fierce gun battles Saturday, but many of their comrades still remain trapped.

However, the fate of their 44 Fijian peacekeeping colleagues captured by Syrian rebels still remains uncertain.

Irish soldiers with UNDOF, which is responsible for ensuring the ‘no-mans land’ between Israel and Syria, took part in the rescue of the Filipino UN troops during Saturday's fighting, the Irish military said in a statement.

"Irish personnel secured a route, provided security as UNDOF troops withdrew from a UN position and escorted them to the Force Headquarters in Camp Faouar" on the Syrian side of the armistice line, the Irish statement said.

The UN confirmed that 32 Filipino troops had been rescued from the unit that comprised 72 peacekeepers, who have refused to give up their arms to the militants.

Those remaining are currently still under fire, preventing them from being evacuated, the UN said in a statement issued from its New York headquarters. It stressed that there were no reported casualties among UN personnel.

UN diplomatic sources told Reuters that militants were firming up their siege on the latter group. "As we speak more rebels in more than 20 vehicles are approaching and reinforcing the siege," a source said on condition of anonymity late on Saturday night.

Fijian hostages in good health

Militants, including some linked to Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, also took hostage 44 Fijian peacekeepers, the UN reported last week.

A UN statement on Friday said the world body "has received assurances from credible sources" that the Fijians "are safe and in good health" although their mission has had no contact with them.

But a senior Fijian military official told reporters in Suva on Saturday that their location was unknown.

"Their whereabouts at this stage, unfortunately, I cannot confirm," Brigadier Mosese Tikoitoga said after speaking to the head of the UN team negotiating for their release.

"They confirmed that our men are safe and they are all well. (But) they have been moved to a location out of the bombardment range of any security forces or the Syrian security forces.

"It is out of the UN territory. But again it's the word of the group. We've got no verification whatsoever, no communication but we're only relaying the message that was delivered to us by the negotiators."

There are currently 1,200 peacekeepers serving in UNDOF from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands.

UNDOF has been tasked with monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and Israel since 1974.

“The troops who are meant to be keeping the peace between Syria and Israel are based in a no-man's land and have become caught up in the Syrian civil war,” said FRANCE 24’s Jerusalem correspondent Irris Makler.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters)

Date created : 2014-08-30

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