A United Nations convoy sent to pick up 21 U.N. peacekeepers being held by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights has reportedly been forced to retreat following shelling in the area.
Reports say the U.N. vehicles entered the village of Jamla on Friday, where the hostages are being held, but pulled out after Syrian military bombing made it impossible to travel further.
In New York, following a Security Council briefing on Friday, U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous confirmed that the area was under heavy bombardment by Syrian forces. He said he was hopeful that a cease-fire would be negotiated for a few hours to allow the peacekeepers to be released safely.
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, also in New York, refuted claims that troops are bombing Jamla, telling reporters they are targeting the suburbs of the villages where armed groups are concentrated.
The peacekeepers from the Philippines are part of a 1,000-plus force that patrols a zone between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights. They were detained Wednesday by Syrian rebels who have identified themselves as the Martyrs of Yarmouk.
U.N. officials have been negotiating their release with rebel commanders, who are demanding that Syrian government troops leave the area. President Bashar al-Assad has not commented on the incident.
Video posted online by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights shows some of the Philippine peacekeepers. One peacekeeper, who identified himself as the captain, said he and his men were safe.
The observatory says the rebel group is fighting for villages in the area and has been operating independently.
Both the U.N. and the Philippines have strongly condemned the seizure.