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Filipino peacekeepers safe from rebels in Golan Heights

AFP 532854499

More than 70 Filipino U.N. peacekeepers are now safely away from Islamist militants in the Golan Heights as clashes continue against al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels, according to the Philippine military.

Thirty-two peacekeepers were been rescued after militants surrounded their camp, trapping them for two days, activists and officials said.

Other U.N. peacekeepers were able to flee from a different encampment that was also surrounded by rebels of the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, they said.

Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said Sunday in the Philippine capital, Manila, that the remaining Filipino peacekeepers separately moved to positions that were safely away from any further threat.

According to Catapang, the Filipinos were surrounded by the rebels and had to return fire in self-defense before managing to escape after a seven-hour siege.

Catapang said: "We may call it the greatest escape."

The clashes come after Syrian rebel groups, including the al-Nusra Front, overran the Quneitra Crossing — located on the frontier between Syrian- and Israeli-controlled parts of the Golan Heights — on Wednesday, seizing 44 Fijian peacekeepers.

The peacekeepers are a part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) which has been in place since 1974 to maintain the cease-fire between the Israeli and Syrian forces, the website states.

UNDOF has 1,223 troops from six countries: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines.

Contributing: The Associated Press

source: usatoday
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