Four UN peacekeepers were released on Sunday by armed men thought to be Syrian rebels. The four Filipino workers were abducted last week while patrolling the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel-occupied Golan Heights.
UN officials announced the hostages’ release, saying they are in good health. Rebels from the Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade claimed responsibility for the abductions.
The rebels claimed they were holding the UN peacekeepers for their own safety after clashes with the Syrian government put them in danger. The four were taken on Tuesday while they patrolled near an area where the same Syrian rebels held 21 Filipino observers for three days in March.
A spokesman for the rebels announced that the four UN peacekeepers were released on Sunday morning at a border checkpoint where the Jordanian and Israeli borders join with the Golan Heights. Abu Iyas al-Horani explained, “They have been handed over in a spot in the Yarmouk Valley.
The troop seizures have been alarming to Philippines officials. Authorities in Manila have said they are considering withdrawing their contingent in Golan in light of the kidnappings. There are currently about 1,100 peacekeepers from the Philippines, Austria, and India monitoring the cease-fire line.
Lightly armed UN troops have monitored the cease-fire line between Israel and Syria since 1974. The zone was relatively calm for decades, until the conflict in Syria sparked fighting in the area between rebels and the country’s government. The UN has cut back on patrols and other activities in response to the fighting.
Israel initially captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East War. The country later annexed them, though the move is not recognized internationally.
The Syrian conflict has killed 82,000 people and left at least 12,500 people missing after two years of war. Most of the dead are believed killed by troops and militia loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. Most of the missing are believed to have been detained by the government and loyalists.
[Image via photos8.com]