Golan: Filipino peacekeepers in hours-long firefight with jihadis; fled in nighttime escape

Golan: Filipino peacekeepers in hours-long firefight with jihadis; fled in nighttime escape

[Ed. – This is actually pretty big.  The UN won’t just be going back in on the same basis as before.  And the 45 Fijians are still there, pinned down by the jihadis.]

The crisis began after Syrian rebels overran the Quneitra crossing — located on the de facto border between Syrian- and Israeli-controlled parts of the Golan Heights — on Wednesday. A day later, insurgents from the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front seized the Fijian peacekeepers and surrounded their Filipino colleagues, demanding they surrender.

The Filipinos, occupying two U.N. encampments, refused and fought the rebels Saturday. The first group of 35 peacekeepers was then successfully escorted out of a U.N. encampment in Breiqa by Irish and Filipino forces on board armored vehicles.

The remaining 40 peacekeepers were besieged at the second encampment, called Rwihana, by more than 100 gunmen who rammed the camp’s gates with their trucks and fired mortar rounds. The Filipinos returned fire in self-defense, Philippine military officials said.

At one point, Syrian government forces fired artillery rounds from a distance to prevent the Filipino peacekeepers from being overwhelmed, said Col. Roberto Ancan, a Philippine military official who helped monitor the tense standoff from the Philippine capital, Manila, and mobilize support for the besieged troops.

“Although they were surrounded and outnumbered, they held their ground for seven hours,” Philippine military chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said, adding that there were no Filipino casualties. “We commend our soldiers for exhibiting resolve even while under heavy fire.”

As night fell and a cease-fire took hold, the 40 Filipinos fled with their weapons, traveling across the chilly hills for nearly two hours before meeting up with other U.N. forces, who escorted them to safety early Sunday, Philippine officials said.

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