MANILA (Reuters) - A firefight erupted on Saturday between a group of Philippine peacekeepers trapped on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights and Islamist militants surrounding their position, the defence chief of the Philippines said.
About 40 Philippine troops manning one of two camps on theSyrian side of the frontier with Israeli-held territory, identified as camp 68, came under attack at around 6 a.m. (0400 GMT), Voltaire Gazmin told reporters via a mobile phone text message.
Another defence official said all the Philippine troops weresafe.
A further 35 Philippines troops were at another site, knownas camp 69, about 4 km (2.5 km) away but were not involved in the firefight.
The troops are part of UNDOF, a U.N. force that hasmonitored the disengagement zone between Israel and Syria since1974 in the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
U.N. officials are trying to establish the whereabouts of 44Fijian peacekeepers, also part of UNDOF, seized by alQaeda-linked militants this week along the rocky boundarybetween Syria and the Golan Heights.
The Philippine troops, however, have held their ground forabout 48 hours and refused to yield their arms to themilitants.
“There was a firefight but I would like to assure everyonethat our troops are safe at the moment,” said Ramon Zagala,chief of the Armed Forces public affairs office. He did not giveany more details.
The Fijian peacekeepers were captured at their post abouteight kilometres away from the Philippine troops.
(The story has been refiled to clarify to show troops in Syrian territory, not on Israeli-held land, in first paragraph)
Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Paul Tait