Sunday 23 November 2014

Islamic militants reinforce siege on UN peacekeepers as Irish troops stage rescue operation

Published 30/08/2014 | 21:11

ISLAMIC militants have reinforced a siege on UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights this evening.

Up to 20 vehicles carrying reinforcements arrived at a post occupied by Filipino peacekeepers, Reuters news agency reports.

"As we speak more rebels in more than 20 vehicles are approaching and reinforcing the siege around Position 68," a diplomat source said on condition of anonymity. The source added that the reinforcements began arriving at 11:00 p.m. local time.

The area on the Syria-Israel border has been the focus of increased violence in recent days.

Irish troops operating in the area in a peacekeeping capacity were involved in a rescue mission this morning at another post under siege by militants.

32 Filipino UN peacekeepers at the Breiqa encampment were extracted this morning, with the assistance of Irish peacekeepers who rushed to the scene, said officials.

The UN has said there was a firefight - however it is not yet known whether any Irish soldier discharged their weapon.

The Irish UN peacekeeper battalion, which is tasked with emergency responses,  safely evacuated all the Filipino UN peacekeepers.

All members of the Irish Defence Forces stationed in the area are safe and accounted for, a spokesperson confirmed tonight.

The clashes came after Syrian rebel groups, including the Nusra Front, overran the Quneitra crossing - located on the frontier between Syrian and Israeli controlled parts of the Golan Heights - on Wednesday, seizing 44 Fijian peacekeepers.

The Nusra Front also surrounded the nearby Rwihana and Breiqa encampments, where other UN peacekeepers were holed up.

The gunbattle began early today at the Rwihana base some 1.5 miles (2.3km) from Quneitra, where 40 Filipino peacekeepers were surrounded by Nusra fighters who were ordering them to surrender, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Philippines' defence secretary Voltaire Gazmin gave a similar account but did not name the armed group.

Mr Abdurrahman, whose information comes from a network of activists throughout Syria, said he was not aware of any fatalities among the 40 Filipino peacekeepers in the Rwihana encampment as sporadic fighting continued throughout the day.

A Philippine military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, also said there were no casualties.

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