Syrian Jihadists turn against peacekeepers on the Golan

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An armored column gathered to rescue Philippino peacekeepers from the Syrian Golan.
Smoke pillars from the UN post in Quneitra. August 30, 2014
Smoke pillars from one of the UN posts in Quneitra. August 31, 2014

The collapse of the Syrian regime’s military stronghold around Quneitra, the main city in the Syrian Golan height, and border crossing with Israel has caught the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) facing a mission it was not prepared to do – face extremist Syrian Jihadist rebels that have been fighting the Syrian regime for more than two years. Two UN contingent forces from Fiji and the Philippines were involved in the fighting over the weekend.

UNDOF deployment - Golan 2010
UNDOF deployment – Golan 2010 – subscribe for a larger version

The clashes came after Syrian rebel groups, including the Nusra Front, overran the Quneitra crossing on the frontier between Syrian and Israeli controlled parts of the Golan on Wednesday, the Jihadist group, affiliated with Al Qaeda seized 45 Fijian peacekeepers captured in the valley of Quneitra. As of today (Sunday), the peacekeepers remain under rebel custody. While the Jihadist captors confirmed the Fijian detainees are safe and treated well, the Nusra Front stated that the Fijians were seized in retaliation for the UN’s ignoring the suffer of Moslems by the Syrian regime.

The Islamic State, a splinter group that has separated from the Nusra Front and now rivals the Jihadist group have recently massacred hundreds of Syrian Army prisoners captured when the group captured a Syrian military airbase in east Syria.

An armored column gathered to rescue Philippino peacekeepers from the Syrian Golan.
An armored column gathered to rescue Philippino peacekeepers from the Syrian Golan.

Filipino groups that manned two positions were also under attack at two separate bases post 68 and 69 located at Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah. The Philippinos decided to stay put. The commands from Manila were clear – stand guard until help comes. A first group of 35 Filipino peacekeepers was rescued by an armoured escort column manned by Irish and Filipino forces on Saturday. A second group of 40 Filipinos remained at Post 68, sieged by more than 100 gunmen who fired heavy mortar fire and rammed the camp’s gates with their trucks. The rebels demanded their surrender but the Filipinos refused, and returned fire. During this fight the area was bombarded by Syrian government forces, as artillery fire was used to keep the rebels away from overwhelming the post. Shortly after midnight, the UN agreed on a cease-fire agreed with the rebels, enabling the 40 Filipino peacekeepers to leave their position and group back at Camp Ziuoani one the Israeli side of the border.

“Although they were surrounded and outnumbered, they held their ground for seven hours,” Philippine military chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang said in a news conference in the Philippine capital, Manila, adding there were no Filipino casualties. “We commend our soldiers for exhibiting resolve even while under heavy fire.”

UNDOF mission has 1,223 troops from six countries: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines. Austria, japan and Croatia withdrew their forces due to the escalating violence. Philippine officials also said they will withdraw the 331-strong Filipino contingent serving as part of the UNDOF mission in the Golan Heights at the end of their tour of duty in October due to the worsening security situation. However, the unit will remain in Golan until their mission ends in October.