Updated: 08/31/2014 10:26 | By Agence France-Presse

All Philippine UN peacekeepers in Golan now safe: military

All 75 Filipino troops serving as UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights are now safe after the last batch slipped away under cover of night from besieging Syrian rebels, military spokesmen said Sunday.


All Philippine UN peacekeepers in Golan now safe: military

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

"Everyone is in a safe position. We left our (old) position but we brought all our arms," said Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala.

An initial group of 35 Filipino troops were picked up from their position by UN armoured vehicles on Saturday after Syrian rebels attacked their comrades positioned about four kilometres (two-and-a-half miles) away, said Zagala.

The remaining 40 soldiers engaged the Syrian rebels in a "seven-hour firefight", but later walked to safety to a UN position just over two kilometres away, he added.

They later moved to Camp Ziouani behind UN lines, he said.

"There is no more standoff. All are safe," Zagala told AFP.

The troops, burdened by their equipment and the cold weather, walked for about an hour and 40 minutes in the dark to reach safety, he said in Manila.

In a statement, Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang said the Syrian and Israeli governments had supported the Filipinos in upholding "the integrity of the area of separation".

He also credited the US and Qatar governments for helping safeguard the blue helmets but did not elaborate on their role.

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United Nations will not compromise the safety and security of our troops while in the pursuit of their duties. It is in our national interest to prioritise their safety without abandoning our commitment to international security," he said.

The Filipino peacekeepers were besieged by rebels Thursday but defied demands that they give up their weapons.

Rebels, including some linked to Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, also took hostage 44 Fijian peacekeepers, the UN has said.

Asked what the Filipino peacekeepers would do now, Zagala said "we continue our mission. Our commitment is still there".

On August 23, the Philippine Defence Department announced that it would withdraw the 331-strong Filipino contingent serving as part of the United Nations Disengagement Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights at the end of their tour of duty in October due to the worsening security situation.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six-Day War, then annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

The UN peacekeeping force has been stationed there since 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

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