Filipino Peacekeepers Safely Escape Syrian Rebels in Golan Heights

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Image: Gregorio Pio Catapang
Philippine military chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang shows reporters where Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights have been repositioned during a press conference at Camp Aguinaldo military headquarters in suburban Quezon city, Philippines on Sunday Aug. 31. Catapang said more than 70 Filipino peacekeepers have escaped from two areas in the Golan Heights that came under attack by Syrian rebels. Aaron Favila / AP

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MANILA, Philippines — Under cover of darkness, 40 Filipino peacekeepers made a daring escape after being surrounded and under fire for seven hours by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights, Philippine officials said Sunday, leaving 44 Fijian troops still in the hands of the al-Qaida-linked insurgents. "We may call it the greatest escape," Philippine military chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said.

The peacekeepers became trapped after Syrian rebels entered the U.N.-patrolled buffer zone between Syria and Israel this week, seizing 44 Fijian soldiers and demanding that their Filipino colleagues surrender with their weapons. The Filipinos in two U.N. encampments refused and clashed with the rebels on Saturday. The first group of 35 peacekeepers was then successfully escorted out of a U.N. encampment. The remaining 40 peacekeepers were besieged at the second encampment by more than 100 gunmen who rammed the camp's gates with their trucks and fired mortar rounds. "Although they were surrounded and outnumbered, they held their ground for seven hours," Catapang said in a news conference in Manila. "We commend our soldiers for exhibiting resolve even while under heavy fire."

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