4 U.N. peacekeepers released by Syrian rebels
BEIRUT--Syrian rebels released four U.N. peacekeepers Sunday, five days after the Filipino troops were seized in the increasingly volatile buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
A rebel group reportedly said the four peacekeepers had been freed at the Israeli border. There was no immediate word from officials in Israel, which captured the strategic plateau from Syria in 1967.
The four were released unharmed, according to statements by military authorities in Manila, the Filipino capital.
A Syrian rebel group, the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, said the four had been held for their own safety amid shelling and clashes in the area between Syrian troops and rebels fighting to oust the government of President Bashar Assad.
The United Nations demanded the immediate release of its personnel.
It was the second time in recent months that Filipino peacekeepers had been seized by rebels in the Golan. In March, 21 Filipino peacekeepers were carjacked and abducted for three days before being turned over to Jordanian authorities at the Jordanian border. The March abduction involved the same rebel group.
The seizures have alarmed Philippines officials. Authorities in Manila say they are considering withdrawing their U.N. contingent in the Golan.
Currently, some 1,100 peacekeepers from the Philippines, Austria and India monitor the cease-fire line. Losing the Philippine contingent in the Golan would be a blow for the U.N. force.
Lightly armed U.N. troops have monitored the Syrian-Israeli cease-fire in the area since 1974. The zone had been relatively calm for decades until the civil strife now engulfing Syria sparked fighting in the area between rebels and the Syrian military. The U.N. has cut back on some patrols and reduced other activities in response to the deteriorating security environment in the area.
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