Inside Filipino troops' 'greatest escape' in Golan

It was suddenly war. On board 3 pick up trucks, the rebels rammed the gate of Position 68 and subjected the encampment to mortar fire. Also mounted on the pick up trucks are ZPU anti-aircraft machine guns. The gate was a safe distance from the encampment itself.

"Our troops fought back bravely and successfully held their positions after a seven hour firefight. This attack prompted UNDOF to reposition our troops to a more secure position within the mission area," Catapang said during the press briefing.

About a hundred rebels took different positions around Position 68 but the UN encampment is well-fortified and the troops were well-armed themselves.

It would have been a harvest for the rebels if the Filipino troops surrendered them. They have M4 assault rifles, M60 light machineguns, K3 squad automatic weapons, and Caliber 45 pistols.

Catapang said the Filipino troops fired at the rebels in self-defense. Syrian government forces also came in to provide fire support, which was crucial in preventing the rebels from closing in. Foreign militaries – US, Israel, and Qatar – also helped during the firefight to ease the tension on the troops.

After 7 hours, the firefight died down. The troops hatched the escape mission.

Other posts evacuated

Filipino troops have evacuated at least 3 positions in Golan. They have been likely overran by rebels, but the troops are all safe. 

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United Nations will not compromise the safety and security of our troops while in the pursuit of their duties. It is in our national interest to prioritize their safety without abandoning our commitment to international security," said Catapang.

There are over 300 Filipino peacekeepers in a number of UN posts in Golan Heights. All 72 who figured in the standoff – troops in Position 68 and 69 – are safe in Camp Ziuoani, another UN post inside Golan Heights. (Note: The number of Filipino troops in the standoff have been repeated adjusted from 81 to 75 and then to 72.)

Irish peacekeepers

The other group of 35 Filipino peacekeepers in Position 69 – located 4 kilometers away from Position 68 – were able to evacuate earlier on Saturday.

Fellow Filipino peacekeepers from Position 80 in southern Golan and Irish peacekeepers manning armored personnel carriers trooped to Position 69 to extricate them. The UN said rebels fired upon the convoy.

All the troops in Position 68 and 69 are now in Camp Ziuoan.Troops in Position 80 have returned to their post located in the Israel side of the border.

A 4th group of 58 Filpino peacekeepers in Position 60 located in the Syrian side of the border evacuated on Friday as contigency measure. They relocated to the UNDOF headquarters in Camp Faouar. (READ: UN orders 58 other peacekeepers to leave posts

Pullout

The incident happened as the Philippines is finalizing the pullout of its troops in the area precisely because of the escalating internal conflict there. The troops' tour of duty ends in October.

The Philippines started to deploy peacekeepers to Golan in 2009. It already considered pulling out its Golan peacekeepers after the kidnapping incidents last year but was convinced by the UN to stay inspite of continued withdrawal of countries like Australia, Croatian and Japan. Escalating internal violence prompted the new decision to pull out.

After the firefight, it may be difficult for them to return to their posts however. "We already engaged them (rebels) in a firefight. It's hard to go back there again. We will be at a disadvantaged position," an official said. – Rappler.com