Release of peacekeepers welcomed by the Philippines | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 10.03.2013
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Middle East

Release of peacekeepers welcomed by the Philippines

The Philippine government on Sunday welcomed the release of 21 of its peacekeepers who had been taken hostage by Syrian rebels. Those freed are expected to return to the Golan Heights.

The Philippines on Sunday reached out to Jordan, thanking them for the successful release of 21 UN peacekeepers, noting that the development is a relief to the detainees' loved ones.

"The Philippine government and its people express deep appreciation to the Jordanian government and military officials on the successful safe passing over to the Jordanian side of all our 21 Filipino peacekeepers," a statement said.

"The release is a big sigh of relief for their families, and we in the armed forces of the Philippines are very thankful for this outcome," said Colonel Arnulfo Burgos, spokesman for the Philippine military, according to the dpa news agency.

The soldiers were part of the Philippines' contingent of the UN's Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which enforces the ceasefire in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The troops were kidnapped by the Syrian rebel group al-Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade last Wednesday and held in the southern Syrian village of al-Jamlah. After negotiating with officials over delivering the peacekeepers to a UN team, the rebels instead delivered them to the Jordanian border.

Burgos said the peacekeepers' battalion commander had already met with the freed men, confirming that they were in Jordanian custody.

The peacekeepers will stay at a hotel in Amman, Jordan, for a couple of days before heading back to work in the Golan Heights.

Targeting of peacekeepers

Syrian rebels have been fighting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad for nearly two years, but this was the first time international peacekeepers were pulled into the conflict. The incident has raised concern that the UN may consider pulling its peacekeepers from the region.

Along that vein, the Philippine foreign ministry stressed the impartiality of the UNDOF and urged all groups to ensure their safety.

"Indeed, this respect of freedom of movement and safety and security of peacekeepers must be extended to all United Nations peacekeeping missions consistent with commitments and obligations under international law," the department said in a statement.

tm/slk (AP, AFP, dpa)