The Archbishop of Polynesia has issued a call to prayer for the safe release of 44 Fijian soldiers captured by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights. In a 29 August 2014 letter to his diocese, the Most Rev. Winston Halapua wrote: “We join with our leaders and with all people of faith in Fiji to pray for our soldiers who have been held captive.”
On 28 August 2014 Syrian rebels from the al-Qaida linked Nusra front captured the Quneitra border crossing between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights guarded by Filipino and Fijian soldiers serving with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). The Fijian troops agreed to lay down their arms and surrender to the Islamic militants, but the Filipino contingent fought back.
After a seven hour gun battle, the Filipino unit, which occupied two UN encampments, was able to withdraw under cover of darkness from their besieged bases and make their way to safety.
“Although they were surrounded and outnumbered, they held their ground for seven hours,” General Gregorio Pio Catapang told reporters in Manila, adding that there were no Filipino casualties. “We commend our soldiers for exhibiting resolve even while under heavy fire.”
General Catapang also thanked the Syrian, Israeli, US and Qatari governments for their assistance in the breakout, but declined to elaborate.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon spoke with the country’s prime minister promising the UN was “doing its utmost to obtain the unconditional and immediate release” of the Fijian peacekeepers, his office reported.
Dr. Halapua wrote “this situation of crisis for Fijians serving in UN Peace Keeping Force brings home to us strongly our deep connections with many other victims of violence.”
“It brings home to us the need to work and pray peace for in our communities, our countries and our world.”