MANILA/DUBAI - Syrian rebels have freed four Filipino UN peacekeepers who they had captured on the ceasefire line between Syria and the Golan Heights last week, the Philippines' foreign minister said on Sunday.

Al Jazeera English television, monitored in Dubai, quoted sources as saying the four had been transferred to Israel.

Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario confirmed in Manila that the four had been released. The ministry will issue a statement later in the day, he said.

The rebel Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade had said they were holding the peacekeepers for their own safety after clashes in the area had put them in danger. There was no immediate word from the rebel group itself on Sunday.

The four had been detained as they were patrolling close to an area where 21 Filipino observers were held for three days in March by the same group.

An Israeli official in Jerusalem said: "From what I understand, they were returned to the UN position they were abducted from."  

The Philippines Foreign Ministry said on Friday that it aimed to pull out 342 soldiers on peacekeeping duties in the Golan Heights, nearly half the number of its UN peacekeepers worldwide, after the abduction of the four filipino nationals.

Albert del Rosario said he had sent a recommendation to President Benigno Aquino to withdraw the peacekeepers from the Golan.

"Our recommendation ... is for the early pullout of our people because we believe the exposure now is beyond tolerable limits," Del Rosario told reporters on Friday.

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