Philippines Plans To Withdraw UN Peacekeepers From Golan Heights After Abduction By Syrian Rebels

  @AmruthaGayathri on May 10 2013 7:04 AM
Golan Heights
A United Nations observation tower overlooking Syria is seen on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights REUTERS

The Philippines is planning to withdraw its soldiers on peacekeeping duties in the Golan Heights following Tuesday's abduction of four filipino soldiers by Syrian rebels, the second such incident in two months.

Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Friday the government believes the risk for his country's 342 peacekeepers in the Golan Heights “is beyond tolerable limits,” the Associated Press reported.

“We have sent a recommendation to the president and as soon as he says go, we will undertake to do that as soon as possible,” del Rosario told reporters.

“We have to worry about the safety of our people ... we don't want to unnecessarily expose our people there.”

Del Rosario said that although a three-month notice period is required to withdraw troops from a U.N. peacekeeping mission, “under the circumstances, where people are in jeopardy -- obviously our people are in jeopardy -- we may try to get ... the U.N. to release them earlier if that is possible,” the AFP reported.

Philippines President Benigno Aquino III is expected to make a final decision based on the recommendation.

Presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang told the AFP that Aquino was considering the recommendation, although no decision on a withdrawal had been made.

“This is the second time this has happened, so there are legitimate concerns about the safety of our peacekeepers,” Carandang said in a text message to the AFP when asked to comment on del Rosario's recommendation.

The Philippines has deployed more than 800 soldiers in U.N. peacekeeping operations in eight locations across the globe. Nearly 350 of them are on duty in the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights, according to a Reuters report.

Those troops are part of the the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which is comprised of 1,000 peacekeeping troops and civilians from Austria, Croatia, India, Moldova, Morocco and the Philippines. The UNDOF has been monitoring the cease-fire between Israel and the Philippines in the Golan Heights since 1974.

On Tuesday, Syrian rebels kidnapped four Filipino peacekeepers from the Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in southwestern Syria. This news comes two months after 21 Filipino soldiers were abducted by the same group and held for four days.

In a statement posted on Facebook, the rebel Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade said it seized the peacekeepers to “secure and protect” them from heavy shelling by Syrian government forces. An accompanying photograph showed the peacekeepers dressed in U.N. armored vests, three of which were marked “Philippines.”

The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade claimed credit for the abduction of the 21 Philippine peacekeepers from the Golan Heights in March.

The UNDOF on Wednesday pulled back from an observation post in the al Jamiah zone in the Golan Heights, where the Filipino soldiers were taken captive, Reuters reported. 

 

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