UN Works To Free Captured Peacekeepers In Golan Heights

A number of UN Peacekeepers from the Philippines managed to escape Syrian militants, but dozens of their Fijian counterparts remain captured.
Posted at 9:16 AM, Aug 31, 2014

Militants reportedly captured dozens of Fijian and Filipino U.N. peacekeepers during fighting in Syria, and while the Filipino contingent escaped, the fate of the Fijians remains uncertain.  

According to the U.N. 44 Fijian peacekeepers from the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force — or UNDOF — remained "detained" Saturday at the post they were manning, on the border between Syria and Israel.

The 32 Filipino troops rescued overnight were helped by Irish forces who provided armored vehicles for the extraction, and were able to escape without suffering any casualties. (Video via BBC)

JOE MAG RAOLLAIGH, RTE: "This was the second time in 36 hours that Irish soldiers rescued Filipino colleagues from rebel forces, and as the UNDOF mission's heavily armed quick reaction force,  the Irish soldiers are set to remain center stage."

Whom exactly they are fighting, though, remains somewhat unclear. The Fijian and Filipino soldiers' captors have been called rebel forces and militants by most outlets, though some sources were more specific.

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

The al-Nusra Front is the same group that held American journalist Peter Theo Curtis who was abducted in Syria and released this week after two years in captivity. (Video via NBC)

The UNDOF mission in the Golan Heights is more than 30 years old, and was established to maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria after the Yom Kippur war in 1973. Some of UNDOF's posts are manned by as few as three peacekeepers.

With the civil war raging on in Syria, UNDOF's strategic locations along the border have come under fire before, with four UNDOF members captured by militants a little more than a year ago. They were later released. (Video via  Euronews)

And this latest incident has some questioning the authority of the U.N. in the region with a writer for Business Insider arguing, "the UN has essentially lost the ability to police the no-man's-land ... UNDOF is ill-equipped to deal with the more chaotic asymmetrical warfare that's currently tearing through the Middle East."

 In light of the fighting, and another post taking fire from militants, the U.N. was forced to evacuate one of its posts on Saturday.