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Filipino peacekeepers in firefight with Syrian rebels - Gazmin

(Updated 4:09 p.m.) Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Saturday said Filipino peacekeepers came "under attack" by Syrian rebels on the Golan Heights.

In a text message to reporters, Gazmin confirmed that there was a firefight between rebels and peacekeepers at Position 68, one of the posts held by Filipino troops.

Gazmin said the firefight errupted at around 6 a.m. (11 a.m. Manila time).

Meanwhile, another group of Filipino peacekeepers have been extracted from Position 69, he added.

When asked about the disposition of the Philippine troops, Gazmin said: "Mataas ang morale [nila]."

In a separate phone interview with GMA News Online, Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala confirmed the firefight but refused to give more details.

Zagala later told Super Radyo DZBB's Glen Juego that the Filipino peacekeepers are safe.

Contingency plans ready

Earlier on Saturday, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte on government-run dzRB radio said the Philippine government has contingency plans for at least 75 Filipino peacekeepers locked in a standoff with Syrian rebels at Golan Heights.

"Meron namang contingency plan, but we'll leave it to the AFP to speak kung ano ang possible next steps," she said. "Our men are holding their ground and we are all hoping that the tension will ease and that they will be brought home safely."

Also, Valte said “The AFP continues to brief President Benigno Aquino III on a regular basis.”

In the meantime, she appealed to Filipinos to offer prayers for the safety of the peacekeepers.

“Siguro damayan natin sila sa kanilang pagdarasal at pagasa na ma-defuse ang sitwasyon sa Golan Heights at maiuwi nang matiwasay ang ating mga sundalo,” she said.

In an earlier press statement, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Syrian anti-government armed elements occupied positions held by Fijian peacekeepers and demanded they surrender their firearms. The 43 Fijian peacekeepers have been taken hostage.

There are currently 1,200 peacekeepers serving in UNDOF from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands. — Amanda Fernandez/JDS, GMA News