(MENAFN - Arab News) UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations on Friday said it had been informed that the Islamist militants who seized 44 Fijian peacekeepers in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights did so 'for their own protection' and that all the detained blue-helmet soldiers are safe.
UN officials had been trying to establish the whereabouts of the peacekeepers who were seized by Al-Qaeda-linked rebels this week inside Syrian territory along the rocky frontier between Syria and the Golan Heights.
'The United Nations has received assurances from credible sources that the 44 peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) who were taken from their position on the morning of Thursday 28 August are safe and in good health' the UN press office said in a statement.
It added that UNDOF has not had direct contact with them.
'UNDOF has been informed that the intention behind those holding the peacekeepers was to remove them from an active battlefield to a safe area for their own protection' the statement said.
The statement added that 75 peacekeepers from the Philippines surrounded by militants and unable to leave their positions have also not been harmed and are in good health.
Ready to fight back
In Manila the trapped Filipino peacekeepers commander said they were prepared to fight back rather than surrender.
'We can use deadly force in defense of the UN facilities' Col. Roberto Ancan told reporters.
'I (would) just like to emphasize our troops are well-armd they are well-trained... they are well-disciplined warrior peacekeepers.'
Syrian rebels including fighters from the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front stormed a Golan Heights crossing on Wednesday sparking an exchange of gunfire with Israeli troops.
The rebels then captured 43 Fijian members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Syrian side on Thursday forcing them to surrender their weapons and taking them hostage.
Ancan said the rebels then used an English-speaking Fijian hostage to relay their demand to the Filipino peacekeepers to give up their weapons but they refused.
Meanwhile talks were underway to release the Fijian hostages according to the Pacific nation's Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama who said they were believed to be safe.
'I want to assure the families of the soldiers we are doing everything possible to secure their safe return' Bainimarama said in a statement.
'The latest information we have is that they are safe and I can say now that the negotiations for their release have already begun.'
All 116 peacekeepers are part of UNDOF a UN force that has monitored the disengagement zone between Israel and Syria since 1974 in the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. UNDOF has 1223 peacekeepers from six countries operating in the zone.
The Syrian civil war now in its fourth year has undermined security in UNDOF's area of deployment. Last year UNDOF peacekeepers were held hostage on two occasions though they were eventually released unharmed in both cases.