JERUSALEM (JTA) — Irish soldiers serving in the Golan Heights would have been killed or taken hostage by Syrian rebels if it weren’t for the military intervention of the Israeli army, an Irish newspaper reported.
Israeli soldiers assisted the Irish troops last week as the latter attempted to rescue a contingent of Filipino peacekeepers who were surrounded and in a gun battle with the Islamist rebels, the Irish Independent reported Sunday.
Unnamed senior Irish sources told the newspaper that there would “almost certainly” have been U.N. casualties or deaths without the Israeli help, which was described as “decisive.”
The Israel Defense Forces reportedly was able to assist during the Aug. 28 siege because it has military posts on high areas overlooking the United Nations bases in Quneitra, located on the border between Israel and Syria.
The Israelis, according to the Independent, helped guide the Irish troops to avoid the rebels, and also may have fired at the rebel troops to halt their attacks on the Filipino and Irish soldiers.
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said over the weekend that he did not want to see his country’s U.N. troops “being drawn into a Syrian civil war.” He added, however, that he would not unilaterally withdraw Irish troops.
“Support for the U.N. is a cornerstone of Irish foreign policy and any decision will be made in partnership with them,” he said.
A detachment of 41 Fijian soldiers who surrendered to the rebels from the al-Nusra Brigade, which has ties to al-Qaida, remains in captivity, but where the captives are being held is unknown. The soldiers were captured after obeying a U.N. order to surrender.