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Sunday 24 September 2023 Dublin: 16°C
AP/Press Association Images Two UN peacekeepers sit on top of an armored vehicles from the U.N.
# Syria
Irish peacekeepers safe but "on high alert" after Golan Heights kidnappings
Irish personnel secured a route and provided security as UNDOF troops withdrew from a position today.

IRISH DEFENCE FORCE troops remain on “high alert” in Golan Heights after yesterday’s kidnapping of Fijian peacekeepers.

The Guardian reports that dozens of Filipino United Nations Disengagement Observation Force (UNDOF) peacekeepers in the area were surrounded by Syrian rebels today.

Also today, elements of the Force Reserve Company of the 44th Infantry Group were deployed by the Force Commander into the Zone of Separation to support other UNDOF personnel.

The Defence Forces said that Irish personnel secured a route, provided security as UNDOF troops withdrew from a UN position and escorted them to the Force Headquarters in Camp Faouar.

The 44th Infantry Group remain on high alert, prepared for further taskings from the Force Commander.
All Defence Forces personnel and equipment remain safe and accounted for.

The 44th Infantry Group and Defence Forces Headquarters continue to monitor the situation, said the Defence Forces.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney said yesterday that Ireland will be reviewing its place in the UN peacekeeping mission once the immediate situation is resolved.

“Deadly force”

The 75 Filipino members of  UNDOF who were besieged by Syrian rebels on the Golan Heights are ready to use “deadly force” to defend themselves, their commander in Manila said today.

Talks are underway to free a separate group of 43 peacekeepers from Fiji who have been taken hostage by anti-Assad fighters.

The United Nations Security Council “strongly condemned” the assaults against the peacekeepers, which it said were carried out by “terrorist groups and by members of non-state armed groups”.

The Filipino peacekeepers trapped at two posts on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights were prepared to fight back rather than surrender, their commander in Manila said.

“We can use deadly force in defence of the UN facilities,” Colonel Roberto Ancan told reporters.

I (would) just like to emphasise our troops are well-armed, they are well-trained… they are well-disciplined warrior peacekeepers.

Syrian rebels, including fighters from the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, stormed a Golan Heights crossing on Wednesday, sparking an exchange of gunfire with Israeli troops.

The rebels then captured 43 Fijian members of the UNDOF on the Syrian side yesterday, forcing them to surrender their weapons and taking them hostage.

Ancan said the rebels then used an English-speaking Fijian hostage to relay their demand to the Filipino peacekeepers to give up their weapons, but they refused.

Talks underway

Meanwhile, talks were underway to release the Fijian hostages, according to the Pacific nation’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, who said they were believed to be safe.

“I want to assure the families of the soldiers we are doing everything possible to secure their safe return,” Bainimarama said in a statement.

The latest information we have is that they are safe and I can say now that the negotiations for their release have already begun.


The UN Security Council demanded the “unconditional and immediate release of all the detained United Nations peacekeepers” and urged countries with influence to help win their release.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it was unclear which group had staged the attacks.

“Some groups are self-identified as affiliated to Al-Nusra but we are not able to confirm,” he said.

However, the US State Department said Al-Nusra was definitely involved, in a statement that emphasised the group was designated by the United Nations as a terrorist organisation.

Security fears

Since the Syrian war erupted in 2011, the plateau has been tense, with a growing number of rockets and mortar rounds hitting the Israeli side, mostly stray, prompting occasional armed responses.

The Philippines, which has 331 troops serving in UNDOF, announced on Saturday that it would pull out of the peace force because of security concerns.

Filipino defence officials said then no fresh troops would be sent once the current batch of soldiers returned from duty in October.

The new crisis had prompted the Philippines to consider pulling out the troops earlier than October, foreign affairs spokesman Jose said.

UNDOF was set up to monitor the 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war.

It currently includes 1,223 peacekeepers from six countries: Ireland, Fiji, India, Nepal and the Netherlands.

- Additional reporting © AFP, 2014

Read: Filipino UN peacekeepers defy Syrian rebels in Golan Heights standoff>

Read: No Irish troops among dozens of peacekeepers captured in the Golan Heights>

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