UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - 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-helmeted soldiers are safe.
U.N. 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 U.N. 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 72 peacekeepers from the Philippines surrounded by militants and unable to leave their positions have also not been harmed and are in good health.
All 116 peacekeepers are part of UNDOF, a U.N. force that has monitored the disengagement zone between Israel and Syria since 1974 in the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. UNDOF has 1,223 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.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Ken Wills