Philippines pulls Golan peacekeepers early as security worsens

244 of the 344 soldiers and staff will arrive in Manila later Friday, with the rest flying within next week

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The Philippines has pulled its peacekeepers from the Golan Heights ahead of schedule amid worsening security there, a military spokesman said Friday.

A total of 244 of the 344 Filipino soldiers and staff will arrive back in Manila later Friday, with the rest flying in the next week or so, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP.

"Troops are being repatriated because of the deteriorating security situation," Zagala said, adding the United Nations had approved the withdrawal.

"Protection of our soldiers is in the national interest."

Some of these troops had traded fire last month with al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels who wanted them to surrender their weapons.

The gunmen also disarmed and abducted 45 Fijian peacekeepers who were later freed unharmed.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force withdrew hundreds of members of the peacekeeping force from the Syrian side to the Israeli-occupied sector of the area on Monday after Syrian fighters advanced near their positions.

Even before last month's stand-off, the Philippine government had decided not to renew its peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights due to safety concerns.

The Filipino soldiers were scheduled to end their mission next month.

More than 100 Filipino U.N. peacekeepers have also been recalled from Liberia amid the deadly Ebola outbreak there.

Despite the Golan pullout, the Philippines will continue joining U.N. peacekeeping missions abroad and is set to replace its 150-strong force in Haiti this month, Zagala said.

"We are still committed to the U.N.," he added.

The Philippines also maintains three peacekeeping observers and three staffers in the Ivory Coast and four in the Kashmir region between Indian and Pakistani forces.

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