Nearly three dozen UN peacekeepers from the Philippines who had been surrounded for days by Islamist militants on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights were rescued during a firefight on Saturday, UN officials said.
"They were safely extracted, nearly three dozen of them," a UN official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Other UN officials confirmed it. Officials in the Philippines have said all 72 of the trapped Filipino peacekeepers were safe.
Deserted UNDOF post on Golan Heights (Photo: AFP)
The UN officials said the other Philippine peacekeepers remained trapped by the militants, who have been battling the Syrian army on the Golan Heights. Another 44 Fijian peacekeepers have been detained by militants nearby since Thursday.
According to reports, al-Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebel group, Jabhat al-Nusra, had laid siege to the Philippine peacekeepers since Friday.
UN peacekeepers in Syria (Photo: AFP)
The UN announced that it received guarantees on Friday night from Jabhat al-Nusra that its peacekeepers were safe. A UN official said the "intention of the abductors was to protect them and that is why they tried to drive them away from the fighting towards a safer area."
IDF officials said the military has allowed UN personnel to cross into Israeli territory as per usual. "The fighting in Syria does not change that policy," they claimed.
Reuters contributed to this report.