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The situation in the Golan Heights is going from bad to worse

The Phillippines has pulled all of its peacekeepers out of the region.

U.N. peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, also known as UNDOF, observe Syria's Quneitra province at an observation point on Mt. Bental in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
U.N. peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, also known as UNDOF, observe Syria's Quneitra province at an observation point on Mt. Bental in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
Image: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

THE PHILLIPPINES HAS pulled its peacekeepers from the Golan Heights ahead of schedule amid worsening security there, a military spokesman has said.

It comes after Minister for Defence Simon Conveney vowed that Irish UN troops will not “become involved in a civil war” in the region, amid heightened tensions in the disputed territory, and the recent kidnapping of Filipino and Fijian peacekeepers.

Coveney said yesterday that while further Irish involvement depended on a proper risk assessment, he did expect our contingent to re-deploy in the coming weeks.

A total of 244 of the 344 Filipino soldiers and staff will arrive back in Manila later today, with the rest flying in the next week or so, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP.

“Troops are being repatriated because of the deteriorating security situation,” Zagala said, adding the United Nations had approved the withdrawal.

Protection of our soldiers is in the national interest.

Some of these troops had traded fire last month with Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels who wanted them to surrender their weapons.

The gunmen also disarmed and abducted 45 Fijian peacekeepers who were later freed unharmed.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force withdrew hundreds of members of the peacekeeping force from the Syrian side to the Israeli-occupied sector of the area on Monday after Syrian fighters advanced near their positions.

Mideast Israel Syria Smoke rises following a Syrian strike in Syria's old city of Quneitra near the border crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, late last month. Source: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

Even before last month’s stand-off, the Philippine government had decided not to renew its peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights due to safety concerns.

The Filipino soldiers were scheduled to end their mission next month.

More than 100 Filipino UN peacekeepers have also been recalled from Liberia amid the deadly Ebola outbreak there.

Despite the Golan pullout, the Philippines will continue joining UN peacekeeping missions abroad and is set to replace its 150-strong force in Haiti this month, Zagala said.

“We are still committed to the UN,” he added.

The Philippines also maintains three peacekeeping observers and three staffers in the Ivory Coast and four in the Kashmir region between Indian and Pakistani forces.

- © AFP, 2014additional reporting by Dan MacGuill

Coveney: ‘I will not send Irish troops into civil war in Syria’ >

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