The Philippines said Wednesday its peacekeepers would stay in the Golan Heights until at least August, AFP reported. The country added it would consider staying beyond the end of the summer as well if the UN increased security in the buffer zone between Israel and Syria.
The announcement by Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario eased fears of a pullout by the country, following repeated warnings in recent weeks that it was considering withdrawing its 341 soldiers from the volatile area.
Syrian rebels kidnapped 25 Filipino peacekeepers in two separate incidents in the Golan Heights this year, raising concerns for the safety of the country’s troops.
Austria has already begun to pull out the several hundred troops it has stationed in the area, and in recent weeks the UN expressed fears that a further reduction of troops would jeopardize its mission there. However, the possibility remains that, if security concerns are mitigated, troop presence in the region could be increased.
According to the AFP, diplomats said Tuesday that Fiji had offered up 500 troops in the future if security demands were met.
Del Rosario also alluded to the possibility that the Philippines could increase troop presence as well. He said a Philippine assessment team was in the Golan Heights to help decide on the security situation and what action to take after August 3.
“If there is no appreciable increase in the risk exposure by that time, then we may even consider adding to our contingent,” del Rosario said.
“We want a normal number there for the protection of everyone,” he concluded.