AMMAN  - Twenty-one Filipino UN peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels on the Golan Heights arrived in Jordan on Saturday, hours after their captors released them from an ordeal of more than three days.
“They arrived in Jordan; they are on Jordanian land now,” Jordanian government spokesman Samih Maaytah told AFP. The United Nations and the Philippines government also confirmed that the 21 members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), had crossed safely into Jordan from Syria where rebels battling the Syrian regime seized them on Wednesday. “We can confirm that the peacekeepers have been released,” UN peacekeeping spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero said in New York.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the release but said all sides in the Syrian conflict must respect the “impartiality” of UNDOF which monitors a ceasefire line between Syria and Israel in the strategic Golan plateau. Ban “appreciates the efforts of all concerned to secure their safe release,” said a statement released by his press office after the Filipinos crossed from Syria into Jordan. “The secretary general emphasizes to all parties the impartiality of United Nations peacekeepers,” it added.
The authorities in Manila also expressed relief. “Our 21 peacekeepers are now in the custody of the Jordanian border patrol headquarters. We were able to verify this through a telephone call placed by one of the men to their battalion commander,” Philippine military spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Burgos told AFP.
The peacekeepers were abducted by rebels from the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade just a mile to the Syrian side of the armistice line with Israel that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, in the village of Jamla. The rebels demanded that Syrian troops move 20km back from Jamla and that the International Committee of the Red Cross “guarantees the safe exit from the strife-torn area of Jamla of civilians,” said the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman.
The abduction - the first of its kind since the conflict erupted in Syria nearly two years ago - was condemned by world powers and triggered a flurry of diplomatic action to secure the peacekeepers’ release. Meanwhile, Syrian troops bombarded on Saturday several rebel-held areas near Damascus, where 10 people, including three children, were killed in clashes between troops and rebels, the Observatory said.