THE 339 Filipino soldiers serving as UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights will be returning home earlier than scheduled because of the deteriorating security situation in the area.
The first batch of 244 peacekeepers was expected to arrive on Friday, with the remaining 85 arriving on Sunday, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman, said on Friday.
They were originally scheduled to come home at the end of September or the first week of October, but the escalating violence in the Syrian side of Golan Heights prompted the repositioning of all peacekeeping members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) to the Israeli side, Zagala said.
“All positions and observation points in the Syrian side, along with UNDOF headquarters in Cap Fauoar, have been vacated,” he added.
Zagala said since the Filipino peacekeepers were about to end their tour of duty, UNDOF deemed it practical to repatriate the contingent earlier than expected because of logistical constraints.
Last month, the Filipinos figured in a stand-off and a firefight with al-Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebels who tried to take the Filipino-occupied Positions 68 and 69 on the Syrian side of Golan Heights.
The Filipinos stood their ground even after the rebels took over the positions held by Fijian peacekeepers, taking 45 Fijians as hostages.
An exchange of fire erupted when the rebels advanced on Position 68, while the peacekeepers in Position 69 moved to a more secure location with the help of UNDOF’s quick reaction force.
The remaining peacekeepers, running low on ammunition, returned to UNDOF headquarters in Camp Faouar on August 30, ending the stand-off.
Zagala said the Filipino peacekeepers will make a courtesy call on President Benigno Aquino 3rd and the House of Representatives when they arrive.
The peacekeepers will be “welcomed as heroes” for their courage and commitment in the face of an overwhelming threat.
More than 1,000 Filipino peacekeepers are serving in conflict areas worldwide, according to the Philippine mission to the UN.
With a report from