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UN Peacekeepers Flee to Israel as They Escape Syrian Rebels

Amid reports that they engaged Syrian rebels in a gun-battle that lasted for seven hours, dozens of Filipino peacekeepers managed to escape Syria and seek refuge in Israel.

Under cover of darkness, 40 Filipino peacekeepers who were surrounded and came under fire by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights made a daring escape, the Philippine military chief Sunday, while 44 Fijian soldiers remained in the hands of the insurgents

After coming under rebel attack Saturday, the first group of 35 Filipino peacekeepers was successfully escorted out of UN encampment in Breiqa by Irish and Filipino forces on board armored vehicles, said Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang and other military officials.

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 and instead returned fire in self-defense, Philippine military officials said.

The peacekeepers are members of UNDOF, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, which was created in 1974 to maintain and supervise the ceasefire between Israel and Syria following the 1973 war. UNDOF is not mandated to act in the Syrian civil war and only reports to relevant parties when its mandate is challenged by the fighting between the Syrian army and rebels.

The events of the last 72 hours followed the August 27 capture of the Syrian side of the Quneitra border crossing with Israel by rebel forces, chief among them the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Israel Project’s Defense Analyst Stephane Cohen said the crossing is critical to control of the entire Syrian side of the Golan region.

“Quneitra is the crossroad between Damascus and Israel – the main Highway 7 to the capital begins there. The rebels, including the Islamists already control the southern half of the Golan and I believe if the Quneitra area falls into their hands, then the northern part of the Golan Heights will fall quickly too. At least 80 percent of the Syrian side of the actual border is already in the hands of the rebels.”

Cohen said the next stage is likely to be an offensive by the Syrian army against rebel positions on the Golan. The outcome of that battle could give a clearer indication as to who will control the region in the coming months.

[Photo: The Tower]