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Filipino peacekeepers make daring escape


SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Filipino peacekeepers make daring escape

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Under cover of darkness, 40 Filipino peacekeepers made a daring escape after being surrounded and coming under fire by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights, the Philippine military chief said today, while 44 Fijian troops remained in the hands of the al-Qaida-linked insurgents.

After coming under rebel attack yesterday, 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 armoured vehicles, Gen. Gregorio Pio 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-defence, 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 mobilise 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 today, Philippine officials said.

During the siege, the Philippine secretaries of defence and foreign affairs, along with the country’s top military brass, gathered in a crisis room at the military headquarters in the capital to communicate with the Filipino forces and help guide them out of danger.

The Syrian and Israeli governments, along with the United States and Qatar, provided support, the Philippine military said without elaborating.

 

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