Shelling delays release of UN Golan peacekeepers | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 08.03.2013
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Middle East

Shelling delays release of UN Golan peacekeepers

Syrian rebels have insisted on the withdrawal of troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad before they'll free UN peacekeepers detained in the Golan Heights. The rebels had earlier appeared ready to free the Filipino troops.

The rebels had been expected to free the Filipino peacekeepers early on Friday, on condition that they were escorted from the area because of fighting with troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

However, spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, Raul Hernandez, said the promise had not been fulfilled. He said the rebels had restated their original demand for Syrian troops to withdraw some 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from the village of Jamla - on the Syria side of the ceasefire line - where the peacekeepers were being detained.

"I don't know exactly know what happened, why the expected release did not happen, but the demand is still there" Hernandez told reporters in Manila.

The 21 soldiers, members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), were kidnapped on Wednesday close to an observation tower in the demilitarized Golan Heights.

Hernandez added that any arrangements that resulted in the release of the peacekeepers would be "very welcome."

"The demand of the rebels for the repositioning of Syrian forces in the area of Jamla is still outstanding so this is still being worked out," he said on ABS-CBN television.

UNDOF monitors the armistice between Syria and Israel that followed the 1973 Yom Kippur war that made the Golan Heights a demilitarized zone.

rc/dr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)