MANILA - 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 the Syrian 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 were safe.
A further 35 Philippines troops were at another site, known as 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 has monitored the disengagement zone between Israel and Syria since 1974 in the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. U.N. officials are trying to establish the whereabouts of 44 Fijian peacekeepers, also part of UNDOF, seized by al Qaeda-linked militants this week along the rocky boundary between Syria and the Golan Heights.
The Philippine troops, however, have held their ground for about 48 hours and refused to yield their arms to the militants.
"There was a firefight but I would like to assure everyone that our troops are safe at the moment," said Ramon Zagala, chief of the Armed Forces public affairs office. He did not give any more details.
The Fijian peacekeepers were captured at their post about eight kilometres away from the Philippine troops.