Syrian rebels holding U.N. peacekeeping troops from Golan border

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Filipino troops from the United Nations peacekeeping force on the border between Syria and Israel have escaped from the Syrian rebels holding them captive.

The Filipino troops, part of the United Nations peacekeeping force monitoring the 1974 disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel after the 1973 war, escaped in the middle of Saturday night, Reuters reported.

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The troops  from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force “have relocated to an alternate site and are safe,” the United Nations said in a statement.

Meanwhile, 44 Fijian peacekeepers have been held captive since Aug. 28. “At this time, no additional information on their status or location has been established. The United Nations continues to actively seek their immediate and unconditional release,” according to a statement issued by the U.N.

“Elsewhere in the area of operation, UNDOF troops remain on high alert and continue to carry out their mandated tasks,” according to the statement.

The Philippines announced last week that it would recall its peacekeeping force, numbering 331, at the end of its tour of duty in October due to the difficulty in securing the peacekeepers. In September 2013, 21 Filipino peacekeepers were kidnapped by Syrian rebels and released a week later.

The rebels and Syrian forces in Syria’s more than three-year civil war have been fighting near the border for control of the crossing. Several mortars and gunfire have hit Israeli territory; an Israeli military officer and a civilian were injured by the live fire. The IDF responded by striking two Syrian military positions in the Golan, according to the IDF.

A rebel spokesman told the Associated Press Thursday that they are focused on fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, and pose no threat to Israel.