Philippine Military Chief Confirms Peacekeepers Escaped Syria
The Philippine military chief confirmed on Saturday night that more than 70 Filipino peacekeepers have escaped from two areas in the Golan Heights that came under attack by Syrian rebels, according to The Associated Press (AP).
Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said in the Philippine capital, Manila, that the 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.
"We may call it the greatest escape," he said.
The clashes came after Syrian rebel groups, including the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, overran the Quneitra crossing on the frontier between Syrian and Israeli controlled parts of the Golan on Wednesday, seizing 44 Fijian peacekeepers.
Unconfirmed reports earlier Saturday said that dozens of Filipino UN peacekeepers escaped into Israel. The border gates were reportedly opened up to let them in.
As for the peacekeepers from Fiji, on Friday it was reported that negotiations are underway to try and gain their release.
Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama released a statement saying that "the latest information we have is that they are safe and I can say now that the negotiations for their release have already begun."
"I want to assure the families of the soldiers we are doing everything possible to secure their safe return," said Bainimarama, adding that Fiji is "united as a nation in praying for their safe return. These men are peacekeepers, not combatants in the Syrian conflict, and there is no need for them to be detained."