The United Nations has condemned the kidnapping of dozens of its peacekeepers close to the border with Syria and demanded their immediate release.
Forty-three peacekeepers from Fiji were taken hostage in Al Qunaytirah in the demilitarised buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Thursday.
Another 81 UN troops from the Philippines are trapped in their positions in Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah. They are surrounded by militants who have demanded they surrender their weapons, which they have refused to do.
General Domingo Tutaan Junior, a spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the troops had a right to defend themselves:
“Our soldiers are prepared, trained and capable of dealing with these situations and will take risks to fulfil our commitment to international security and peace. The peacekeeping contingent has the right to defend its position and the units in line with the UN protocols and rules of engagement,” he said.
The UN has reinforced its positions in the area.
On Wednesday, Syrian rebels including the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front had wrested control of the border crossing from the Syrian government. Heavy fighting between Syrian government troops and rebel fighters is continuing close to the border.
Israel seized Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and both countries are still technically in a state of war. The UN monitors the demilitarized buffer zone, known as the “area of separation”, to keep the ceasefire between the two countries. The buffer zone is about 80 km long, and between 0.5 to 10 km wide. It runs from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan.