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U.N. peacekeepers in Syria to be freed

March 09, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • U.N. military drive a vehicle in the Golan Heights region along Israel's border with Syria.
U.N. military drive a vehicle in the Golan Heights region along Israel's… (Ilia Yefimovich / Getty…)

BEIRUT — Twenty-one United Nations peacekeepers captured by Syrian rebels have been taken to the Syrian-Jordanian border to be handed over to Jordanian authorities, according to news agency reports on Saturday.

There was no immediate confirmation from the U.N. or the Jordanian government.

The 21 peacekeepers, all Filipinos, were seized Wednesday  by insurgents in southern Syria near the Israeli border.

The incident drew condemnation from the U.N., the United States, the Philippines and other nations, which demanded their immediate release.

The seizure of peacekeepers is considered a grave violation of international law.

Syrian rebels at the scene accused the U.N. observers of collaborating with Syrian government forces. The U.N. says the peacekeepers maintain strict neutrality.  Rebels also said the peacekeepers would be held until the Syrian military ceased its bombardment of the zone and withdrew from an area village.

But the incident embarrassed the exiled opposition leadership, which has been pressuring to receive more funds and military aid from foreign governments. Moaz Khatib, who heads a U.S.-backed Syrian opposition coalition, told CNN that the peacekeepers were being held for their own safety and would be released to the Red Cross. Opposition officials denied that the peacekeepers were being held hostage.

The U.N. troops were seen on amateur footage saying they were safe and being treated well.

A planned rescue effort on Friday was put off because of heavy shelling in the area, the U.N. said.

The  peacekeepers are part of the 1,000-member U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, which has patrolled the disputed Golan Heights border between Syria and Israel since 1974.


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