Filipino members of a UN peacekeeping force besieged by Syrian rebels on the Golan Heights were ready to use "deadly force" to defend themselves, their commander in Manila said yesterday.
Talks were under way to free a separate group of 43 peacekeepers from Fiji who have been taken hostage by the antiDamascus fighters, officials said.
The United Nations Security Council "strongly condemned" the assaults against the peacekeepers, known as "blue helmets", which it said were carried out by "terrorist groups and by members of non-state armed groups".
The 75 Filipino peacekeepers trapped at two posts on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights were prepared to fight back rather than surrender, their commander in Manila said.
"We can use deadly force in defence of the UN facilities," Colonel Roberto Ancan said.
"I [would] just like to emphasise our troops are well armed, they are well trained ... they are well-disciplined warrior peacekeepers."
Quneitra is the only crossing between the Syrian- and Israeli-controlled sides of the strategic plateau.
The rebels then captured 43 Fijian members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Syrian side on Thursday, forcing them to surrender their weapons and taking them hostage.
Ancan said the rebels then used an English-speaking Fijian hostage to relay their demand to the Filipino peacekeepers to give up their weapons, but they refused.
Meanwhile, talks were under way to release the Fijian hostages, according to the Pacific nation's prime minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, who said they were believed to be safe.
"I want to assure the families of the soldiers we are doing everything possible to secure their safe return," Bainimarama said.
"The latest information we have is that they are safe and I can say now that the negotiations for their release have already begun."
The UN Security Council demanded the "unconditional and immediate release of all the detained United Nations peacekeepers" and urged countries with influence to help.
Manila called for the "immediate release" of the Fijian troops and the "immediate withdrawal of all non-UN forces around UNDOF positions", foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.
"It likewise calls on the UN to exert every effort to ensure the safety and security of all peacekeepers of UNDOF," he said.
The Philippine military said the soldiers were occupying two UNDOF posts about 4km apart.
The UN initially said 81 Filipinos were involved in the stand-off. However, Ancan said there were 75.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it was unclear which group had staged the attacks.
"Some groups are self-identified as affiliated to al-Nusra but we are not able to confirm," he said.
The US State Department said al-Nusra was definitely involved, in a statement that emphasised the group was designated by the United Nations as a terrorist organisation.
The statement demanded the "unconditional and immediate release" of the Fijians.
The situation further highlighted the scale of the crisis in Syria facing the international community, which the UN yesterday described as the "biggest humanitarian emergency of our era".
The number of refugees from the conflict in Syria now topped three million, UN refugee agency chief Antonio Guterres said, adding that a million people had joined the exodus in the past year alone, as Islamic State fighters seized swathes of land in the northeast.
There are 1,200 peacekeepers from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands on the Golan Heights.
Since the Syrian war erupted in 2011, the plateau has been tense, with a growing number of rockets and mortar rounds hitting the Israeli side, prompting occasional armed responses.
The Philippines, which has 331 troops serving in UNDOF, announced on Saturday that it would pull out of the peace force because of security concerns.
Philippine defence officials said no fresh troops would be sent once the current batch returned from duty in October.
The new crisis had prompted the Philippines to consider pulling out the troops earlier than October, foreign affairs spokesman Jose said, although he emphasised no decision had been made.