U.N.: Peacekeepers still held by rebels

March 8, 2013 at 4:22 PM
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AL JAMLAH, Syria, March 8 (UPI) -- The U.N. peacekeepers held by Syrian rebels remained captive and housed in multiple locations in a village near the Golan Heights, a U.N. official said Friday.

"Our 21 peacekeepers are detained in the [Syrian] village of al-Jamla. Apparently they are safe and they have been spread into four or five locations within that village in the basements of various houses," Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said at U.N. headquarters in New York.

"That particular village is subject to intense shelling by the Syrian armed forces," Ladsous said in a release. "Of course we are working 24/7 in the area of operation, with people in the region, and here in the Secretariat, to secure their release under good conditions as quickly as possible."

He said there was a possibility that a cease-fire of a few hours could be called so the peacekeepers, who have been held since Wednesday, could be released.

If the cease-fire were to happen, Ladsous said, there would be a strong expectation the Syrian army would not retaliate.

Earlier, Philippine authorities said they were assured the peacekeepers -- all from the Philippines -- were in good shape and that their captors seemed to have backed off statements that the peacekeepers were hostages, The New York Times reported.

However, Philippines Foreign Ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez said Friday the insurgents were still pressing for Syrian government forces to leave the area around al-Jamlah.

Al-Jamlah is near the Golan Heights -- a disputed region between Israel and Syria that is controlled by Israel -- where a U.N. force has patrolled since a cease-fire ended the 1973 October War.

Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the Syrian Opposition Council, said Friday the peacekeepers were rescued Wednesday, not kidnapped.

"[Their] convoy was at risk, which necessitated transferring them to a safe place." Khatib said.

The rebels said Thursday they wanted Syrian troops to move so an exit route could be opened for the peacekeepers, the Times reported.

Khatib told CNN Friday the rebels would release the peacekeepers to the Red Cross.

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