32 Filipino peacekeepers evacuated, others under attack: UN
Irish members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force sit in armoured vehicles in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights as they wait to cross into the Syrian-controlled territory, August 28, 2014 - by Jack Guez
The group was part of a 72-member contingent situated in two different locations in the area.
Those remaining are currently still under fire, preventing them from being moved out, the UN said in a statement issued from its New York headquarters.
"The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) reports that, early this morning, UN Position 69 was fired upon by armed elements," the UN said in a statement issued from its New York headquarters.
"The Mission's Force Reaction Group has been deployed to the position and all 32 Filipino personnel from this position have been extricated and are now safe."
The statement said another position was also attacked by "armed elements" with mortar and heavy machine gun fire and that the peacekeepers returned fire and prevented the attackers from entering.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the attack on UN peacekeepers, by non-state actors he said included the Al-Nusra Front, Ban's spokesperson said.
Ban called for the immediate release of peacekeepers who had been detained, a call echoed later Saturday by a Security Council resolution.
However, "we are still working towards the safe release of the detained 44 Fijian peacekeepers," it added.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, UN soldiers said earlier that part of the encircled Filipino contingent had been brought out and that others were no longer in rebel hands but awaiting better security conditions so they could enter the Israeli-controlled part of the plateau.
In Manila, Philippines Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin said UN peacekeepers had clashed with Syrian rebels.
Gazmin said in a statement to reporters that the Filipino troops had been "extricated" from one of their two positions but added that another group of Filipino soldiers "is now under attack."
The peacekeepers were besieged by rebels Thursday but defied demands that they give up their weapons.
An AFP photographer heard intense small arms and missile fire in the buffer zone separating the Israeli-occupied part of the strategic plateau and the Syrian part, where the blue helmets are being held.
Irish soldiers with UNDOF, which is responsible for ensuring the maintenance of the armistice line between Israel and Syria, took part in the evacuation of the UN troops, the Irish military said.
"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 Israeli military has cordoned off the area and reinforced its troop presence, an AFP photographer said.
Rebels, including some linked to Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, also took hostage 44 Fijian peacekeepers, the UN has said.
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.
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.
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