Syria opposition: UN observers to be released soon

Free Syrian Army: We didn't approve kidnapping; Syrian Observatory says talks for hostages release are ongoing.

March 7, 2013 18:21
1 minute read.
UN peacekeeping force [illustrative]

UN peacekeepers blue helmets. (photo credit: Ali Hashisho / Reuters)

A high ranking officer in the Free Syrian Army said Thursday that the capture of the 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers by rebel fighters was a mistake, and that they will be released soon, according to BBC in Arabic.

Brigadier General Hussam al-Din Awak, who previously defected from the Syrian Air Force, told BBC in Arabic that the Free Syrian Army did not approve the act, and that the Yarmouk brigade was acting independently.

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The peacekeepers were seized on Wednesday by a rebel group called "Martyrs of Yarmouk," who said they will release them if the Assad army withdraws from the village of Jamal in the Syrian Golan Heights.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Yarmouk brigade is negotiating with a delegate from the Arab League and another delegate from the UN in order to free the peacekeepers.

According to the Observatory, the negotiations are focused on finding a safe way to transport the UN observers back to their base, as well as on negotiating a withdrawal of Assad's army from the area.

On Thursday, the Yarmouk brigade released a video showing six of the Filipino peacekeepers. A man identifying himself as a captain in the battalion said the captors are treating him and his men well.

"Civilian people helped us for our safety and distributed us in different places to keep us safe. They gave us good accommodation and gave us food to eat and water to drink," he said.

Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War, and mortar fire from Syria's civil war has occasionally spilled over into the strategic plateau.

Peacekeepers of the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) mission have been monitoring a ceasefire line between Syria and the Golan Heights for nearly four decades.
Reuters and Ariel Ben-Solomon contributed to this report.

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