Golan Heights peacekeepers moved to safe area
All the Philippine U.N. peacekeepers trapped by Islamist militants on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights have been moved to a secure place, the United Nations and the Philippines said.
Chief of Filipino armed forces General Gregorio Catapang Jr. called it the “the greatest escape,” it in a press conference at Camp Aguinaldo in the city of Quezon.
“Although [the troops] were outnumbered, we escaped from the rebels in the middle of the night while the rebels were sleeping,” Catapang said, according to Filipino news website Inquiror.net.
After coming under rebel attack Saturday, the first group of 35 Filipino peacekeepers was successfully escorted out of a U.N. encampment in Breiqa by Irish and Filipino forces on board armored vehicles, Catapang and other military officials said.
Another group of 40 Filipino troops had remained trapped at another encampment, called Rwihana, by more than 100 gunmen who rammed the camp’s gates with their trucks and fired mortar rounds after the Filipinos refused to surrender with their weapons. Surrounded and besieged, the Filipinos returned fire in self-defense, Philippine military officials said.
Syrian government forces fired artillery rounds from a distance at one point to prevent the Filipino peacekeepers from being overwhelmed, said Col. Roberto Ancan, a Philippine military official who helped monitor the tense Golan standoff from the Philippine capital, Manila, and mobilize support for the besieged troops.
“Although they were surrounded and outnumbered, they held their ground for seven hours,” Catapang said in a news conference in Manila, adding there were no Filipino casualties. “We commend our soldiers for exhibiting resolve even while under heavy fire.”
The 40 Filipinos fled with their weapons from the Rwihana encampment under cover darkness overnight, traveling across the chilly hills for nearly two hours, before meeting up with other U.N. forces, which escorted them to safety early Sunday, Philippine officials said.