The United Nations peacekeepers, seized near the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights, were released on Saturday.
The Syrian rebels released the 21 Filipino peacekeepers into the custody of the Jordanian Army, ending a 3-day standoff which had contributed to the rising tensions in the regions. According to the New York Times the peacekeepers were “well and unharmed” according to United Nations officials.
Initially the “Martyrs of Yarmouk”, the rebel group which had seized the peacekeepers, accused the peacekeepers of aiding the Syrian Army and refused to release them until its forces had pulled out of the area. However, under mounting pressure from the rebel leadership, they soon realized their error and began posting messages on their facebook page, in which they repudiated their previous accusations and demands and offered to surrender the peacekeepers.
The peacekeepers were part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which monitors the demilitarized zone between Syria and the Israeli-held Golan Heights, and has been stationed in the area since 1974. Its mandate has been extended once every six months, with the full agreement and cooperation of both sides.
This recent incident, along with several others in which UN troops were harassed and their vehicles stolen, have caused concerns in Israel that the UN force will be dismantled, despite the safe return of the peacekeepers, according to the Israeli daily newspaper Ma’ariv.
Officially, the peacekeeping force would be dismantled as a result of the withdrawal of several of its member states due to budgetary considerations. However, from a practical perspective, the UN peacekeeping force might no longer be relevant since the border that they have been monitoring is no longer recognized by many of the regional players. “Should the regime in Syria change, then obviously the mandate they were given following the Yom Kippur War would have to be changed as well” said an unnamed Israeli military source.