A Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Thursday his country’s peacekeeping delegation monitoring the Golan Heights will remain in place and carry on its duties, despite 21 of its soldiers being briefly kidnapped by Syrian rebels earlier this month.
On Saturday, opposition forces fighting the rule of President Basher Assad released the 21 Filipino peacekeepers who were abducted on Wednesday, after an earlier attempt to bring them to safety failed.
“The Philippine contingent to the UNDOF [UN Disengagement Observer Force] would remain stationed in the Golan Heights to perform its obligation in the name of peace,” Raul Hernandez was quoted by the AFP as saying.
“The Philippines, as a founding member of the UN, remains fully committed to the UN mandate of promoting peace and security,” he added.
A Philippine military spokesman Arnulfo Burgos said the 21 peacekeepers who were abducted last week would likely go back on patrol soon.
“The 21 peacekeepers have finished their stress debriefing and there are no [adverse] findings,” Burgos said. ”They are continuing with their medical exams and by all indications, by next week, they might be on full duty status.”
UNDOF said late Wednesday it would drastically cut back activity, fearing more kidnappings. “We will stop patrols and shut down a number of observation posts,” a senior UN diplomat said
It was reported last week that the peacekeepers have already stopped all night patrols.
On Wednesday, Croatia’s parliament approved the withdrawal of some 100 peacekeeping troops from the Golan Heights amid fears they could be targeted by Syrian government troops fighting the rebels.
Croatian Defense Minister Ante Kotromanovic said the pullout would start “very soon” but refused to specify the date for security reasons.
The withdrawal, which had been proposed by the country’s president, follows reports claiming that Syrian rebels trying to topple Bashar Assad have been armed with Croatian weapons — including machine guns, rifles and anti-tank grenades — in an operation approved by the United States and sponsored by some Arab countries.
Croatian officials have denied the reports and said they have jeopardized the safety of Croatian soldiers serving in UNDOF.
Japan and Canada have also pulled their troops from the area, citing fears troops could wind up in the midst of the fighting.
The report from Manila may work to quell Israeli fears that UN would discontinue the peacekeeping mission entirely.
“We certainly hope that the UN will keep its commitment to help keep the ceasefire in the Golan Heights. It’s been a cornerstone of regional peace since 1974,” when ceasefire agreements were reached following the previous year’s war, an Israeli government official told The Times of Israel last week.