Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin, AFP chief Greg Catapang & others discuss the standoff in Golan Heights

Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin, AFP chief Greg Catapang & others discuss the standoff in Golan Heights

Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights are in a “standoff” with Syrian rebels who have taken 43 Fijian peacekeepers captive, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said.

The standoff started when Syrian rebels surrounded the Philippine contingent’s encampments with the Fijians in tow, and demanded that the Filipinos surrender their firearms, Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

“They did not surrender their firearms as they may in turn be held hostage themselves. This resulted in a stand-off which is still the prevailing situation at this time,” he said in a statement, issued shortly before 12 a.m. Friday (Philippine time).

The Fijian peacekeepers were seized around 10 a.m. Thursday (Syrian time), after rebels occupied their positions and demanded for their firearms, he said.

“Upon surrendering their firearms, the 43 Fijian peacekeepers were taken hostage,” Zagala said.

Foreign media reported earlier that Filipinos are among those who have been taken captive.

Zagala said that when it was their turn to get surrounded, the Filipino peacekeepers “held their ground and demonstrated their resolve to defend their positions.”

The Philippine government and the United Nations are working to ensure the troops’ safety and the situation’s peaceful resolution, he said.

The latest incidents in Golan Heights occurred barely a week after the Department of National Defense announced that it will pull out soldiers working as peacekeepers for the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Golan Heights after their tour of duty expires in October.

The DND cited the “volatile security environment” in Golan Heights as reason for the pullout.

Syrian rebels had abducted 25 Filipino peacekeepers in two occassions on March 6 and May 7, 2013, but released them after a few days.

On June 6, 2013, a Filipino soldier was injured when artillery fire hit Camp Ziouni – where the peacekeepers were based – amid fighting between Syrian government and rebel forces. (John Roson)

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