U.N. peacekeepers under fire in Golan Heights; 44 still being detained

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(CNN) — Two U.N. peacekeeper positions in the Golan Heights came under fire Saturday while efforts continued to free 44 detained peacekeepers, the United Nations reported.

The attackers fired upon members of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, which has been in place since 1974 to maintain a ceasefire between Israel and Syria and supervise the disengagement from the area. Thirty-two Filipino personnel there were being moved to safety, the United Nations said.

A second position of peacekeepers in the Golan Heights was hit with mortar and heavy machine gun fire, the United Nations said. The peacekeepers returned fire and repelled the attackers, but the group remains under fire, the world body said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the attacks and the detention of peacekeepers. He demanded their unconditional release

Meanwhile, the organization continues working to free the 44 peacekeepers from Fiji who were captured in far southwestern Syria on Thursday, near the border crossing with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

These peacekeepers “are safe and in good health,” the United Nations said Friday, citing “credible sources” since its officials had not yet talked directly with those being held.

Those holding the peacekeepers are members of the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, one of the groups fighting Bashar al-Assad’s government, an Israeli military official told CNN on condition of anonymity.

In addition, 72 U.N. peacekeepers from the Philippines were “restricted to their positions” Thursday and Friday near Syrian villages in the area, the organization said without elaborating.

Syrian rebels were firing at about half of the peacekeepers early Saturday, according to PNA, the Philippines official news agency.

By Mariano Castillo

 

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