News / Middle East

UN Expects to Free Hostages in Syria Saturday

Armored car drives through gate of U.N. base near Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, March 8, 2013.
Armored car drives through gate of U.N. base near Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, March 8, 2013.
VOA News
U.N. officials say they have completed arrangements for the release of 21 Philippine peacekeepers held in the Golan Heights by Syrian rebels, and the handover is expected to take place Saturday.
A U.N. convoy tried to pick up the peacekeepers late Friday, but was forced to turn back by shelling and airstrikes carried out by Syrian government forces. Subsequently, U.N. officials said, "arrangements were made with all parties" for the hostages' release, "but due to the late hour ... it was considered unsafe to continue the operation."
U.N. authorities said they hope to complete the rescue mission and reach the Philippine peacekeeping troops on Saturday.
The initial attempt to retrieve the hostages Friday ended when U.N. vehicles had to retreat under fire after reaching Jamla village, where the hostages have been held.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous briefed Security Council members in New York Friday and confirmed to reporters that Syrian forces shelled and bombed Jamla.
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.
  • This citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center, AMC, shows anti-Syrian regime protesters in Bustan Al-Qasr, Aleppo, Syria, March 8, 2013.
  • A United Nations armored car drives through a gate at a U.N. base near the Kuneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, in the Golan Heights, March 8, 2013.
  • A member of the Free Syrian Army fires his weapon in Deir al-Zor, Syria, March 7, 2013.
  • A father and son cook kebabs for residents in the city of Deir Ezzor on March 4, 2013. Once a thriving hub of Syria's oil industry, Deir Ezzor is now a ghost town of only a few thousand people.
  • A statue of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's father, Hafez Al-Assad, is pulled down as people celebrate in Raqqa, March 4, 2013.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter stands atop an armored personnel carrier captured from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Aleppo, March 4, 2013.
  • Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad applaud after being briefed in preparation for an offensive in the northern city of Aleppo, March 4, 2013.
  • A rebel aims his weapon during clashes with government forces near Aleppo international airport, Syria, March 4, 2013.
  • Sandbags are piled at the ancient Castle of Homs, March 4, 2013.
  • A member of the Popular Protection Units stands guard at a check point near Qamishli, Syria, March 3, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters pose next to bodies in Homs, March 3, 2013.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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