Syrian rebels in standoff with UN peacekeepers

BAGHDAD — Another contingent of UN peacekeepers was caught in a standoff with Syrian rebels Friday, a day after an armed group captured 43 peacekeepers in the area near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The confrontation involved 75 Filipino soldiers serving in the UN mission along the demarcation line between Syria and the Golan Heights. The trouble started after rebels, including the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, seized control of the only border crossing in the area from the Syrian Army on Wednesday.

A day later, the United Nations said 43 peacekeepers from Fiji had been captured and about 80 others had been confined to their bases because of continued fighting in the area. Then Friday, the Philippine military said that in two places, its soldiers were in a standoff with rebels who had tried to storm their positions the day before.


A Philippine military spokesman, Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan, said in Manila that after rebels captured the Fijian contingent, they sent two messengers to the peacekeepers bearing demands that the Filipinos surrender their weapons. The general said the soldiers did not comply, and were prepared to defend their positions, as they are permitted to do under their UN mandate.

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“They have appropriate provisions, both in terms of personal needs, food, and ammunition,” Tutaan said. “They can last there for a good number of days.”

So far, he said, there had been no direct clashes between the Filipino soldiers and the rebel fighters, and the UN and the Philippine military said they were working to resolve the situation.

A number of rebel groups that seek to topple President Bashar Assad of Syria are fighting his forces near the Golan Heights. Fighters from the Nusra Front, the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda, were among those who seized the crossing point. The even more radical Islamic State did not appear to be involved.

No rebel group has claimed publicly to have captured the Fijians, but antigovernment activists said they were most likely in the hands of the Nusra Front.