Four Filipino UN peacekeepers who were captured on the ceasefire line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights last week have been freed by Syrian rebels on Sunday.
Contrary to opinions that the soldiers were in danger after being kidnapped by the rebels, the rebels from the Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade had said they were holding the soldiers for their own safety after clashes with Syrian government forces had put them in danger.
A rebel spokesperson said the four were handed over on Sunday morning at a border checkpoint called Beit Ara, in an area where the Jordanian and Israeli borders join with the Golan Heights.
“They have been handed over in a spot in the Yarmouk Valley,” Abu Iyas al-Horani told the Reuters news agency.
Philippine foreign minister, Albert del Rosario confirmed the development in Manila saying the four had been released.
They were seized on Tuesday as they patrolled close to an area where the same rebel group held 21 Filipino observers for three days in March.
Horani said his information was they were probably handed over to the Jordanian authorities.
Brigadier-General Domingo Tutaan, a spokesperson for the Philippine armed forces, said the four had already been taken back to their battalion in the UN peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights where they would have medical checks and be debriefed. They appear to have suffered no harm though, Tutaan said in a statement.
UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said that Qatar – which has close ties to some of the rebel groups fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad – had helped in securing their safe release.
He said the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was there to keep the peace between Israel and Syria in the Golan.
He therefore called on all parties to respect the freedom of movement, safety and security of its personnel.
The two-year-old uprising in Syria has increasingly crossed borders, threatening to draw other countries into a conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people.