How troops ended siege with three bursts from machine gun
Published 01/09/2014 | 02:30
Irish peacekeeping troops fired three bursts of heavy machine gun fire at al-Qa'ida-linked rebel forces as they helped rescue besieged Filipino comrades on the Golan Heights.
The warning shots, fired from a 12.7mm weapon fitted to a Mowag armoured vehicle, achieved their aim and members of the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qa'ida affiliate in Syria, withdrew from the area.
The Irish action ended the seven-hour siege and allowed for the safe transfer of the 38 Filipino soldiers from the United Nations post at Braika, within the buffer zone between Syria and Israel, to a safer position.
Last night all of the 130-strong Irish contingent were safe. Some were sent back out on patrols throughout the zone while the rest were on stand-by at their base, Camp Faouar, in Syria.
The rescue of the Filipinos was one of a number of armed incidents within the zone over the past three days.
Read more: Peacekeepers in 'greatest escape'
Another 43 Filipinos made what was described by their military chief in the Philippines as "the great escape" on foot in the early hours of Saturday after their surrender had been demanded by rebel forces who had surrounded their post at Rwininah.
The Filipinos made their push for freedom during a lull in the firing. Irish troops were on stand-by in the area as the Filipinos were transferred to Camp Ziouani on the Israel side of the border.
The warning shots were fired by the Irish on Friday as they prepared for the rescue of their UN comrades.
The initial burst was intended as a warning to the al-Nusra Front members to pull back and the subsequent two bursts signalled they should not move closer as the Filipinos were being taken to safety.
Before the rescue, the post had been subjected to a barrage of mortar and small arms fire from al-Nusra fighters, but nobody was injured.
The Filipinos were taken to an area known as UN post 80, which is one of a number of posts being bolstered by the Irish contingent, who are acting as the mission's quick reaction force and providing armoured protection for other peacekeeping troops.
The Irish continued to fulfil their tasks last night, despite the tension that has grown in the area since the rebels moved in on Wednesday after they overran the Quneitra crossing on the frontier between Syria and Israel and then abducted some of the UN soldiers.
Attempts to negotiate the rescue of the 44 Fijian troops kidnapped from their post on Thursday were under way last night.
Low-level talks were understood to have been ongoing, involving mediators acting on behalf of the UN to guarantee the safe return of the captives.
UN personnel were previously detained by rebel fighters in March and May of last year and were released unharmed.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council have both condemned the attacks on the UN positions and the continuing detention of the Fijians.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney said he was keeping the situation under review, and admitted that the Irish troops were "in danger of being dragged into a very nasty, very violent, very bitter civil war in Syria".
"There will be a lot of pressure to maintain the mission because it has worked, but we cannot pretend that the circumstances have not changed," he said. The Irish soldiers in the Golan are due to return home next month.
However, Fianna Fail's defence spokesman Sean O Fearghail has suggested that they should stay longer if the current tensions in the region continue.
Mr O Fearghaíl said that the soldiers have experience of the situation and would therefore be better suited to deal with it in the short-term than inexperienced personnel.
Mr Coveney said the Government has "committed" to the UN mission, but there needs to be a "fundamental review" of what has happened in recent days.