UN Filipino peacekeepers seized in southwest Syria near the border with Jordan and the Israel-controlled Golan Heights, have been freed. The UN Secretary General welcomed their release.
The United Nations and the Philippines government confirmed on Saturday that the 21 members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), had crossed safely into Jordan from Syria where armed rebels seized them on Wednesday.
"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 the AFP news agency.
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.
The men were captured by a group called the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade just a mile to the Syrian side of the armistice line with Israel that was marked following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
The rebels demanded that Syrian troops move 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) away from the village of Jamla and that the International Committee of the Red Cross "guarantees the safe exit from the strife-torn area of Jamla of civilians," according to Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
One attempt to get the troops out of the village of Jamla on Friday was halted because of shelling by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
Syria denied the shelling and the foreign ministry wrote to Ban and the UN Security Council "condemning attacks by terrorist groups against UN forces and residents."
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said on Friday "we would strongly expect that there would not be retaliatory action by the Syrian armed forces over the village and its civilian population."
The abduction was the first of its kind since the conflict in Syria began nearly two years ago. It led to a rush of diplomatic action to secure the peacekeepers' release.
jm/jlw (Reuters, AP, AFP)