UN peacekeepers blue helmets.
(photo credit: Ali Hashisho / Reuters)
Rebels holding 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers near the Golan Heights in southern
Syria said on Thursday that government forces must stop their bombardment and
leave the area before their “guests” can be freed, a rebel activist
“They will be passed to safe hands when possible – because the area
is surrounded and the Assad regime is bombarding it,” said Abu Essam Taseel,
from the media office of the Martyrs of Yarmouk rebel brigade that detained the
Several videos of the peacekeepers were released on
Thursday in which they said they were being well-treated by civilians and rebels
battling President Bashar Assad, but 24 hours after their capture in the
southern village of Jamla there was no indication when they might
“It’s not just a question of their safety only, but the safety of
the people in the area,” Taseel said, adding that the UN peacekeepers monitoring
the cease-fire line between Syria and Israel had the responsibility of keeping
heavy weapons out of the area.
The capture of the UN convoy just 1.5
kilometers from the Israeli border was another sign that Syria’s conflict,
nearing its second anniversary, could spill over to neighboring
The Philippines made clear it did not expect any concrete
action by Israel to help free the hostages, in order to avoid pulling Israel
into Syria’s conflict, Philippine Ambassador to Israel Generoso Calonge said on
“I don’t believe Israel should do anything, except share with
us information that it might learn,” Calonge told The Jerusalem Post
. “I don’t
expect them to do anything, actively or proactively. I would not want Israel
The ambassador said the UN was conducting negotiations for
the release of the peacekeepers.
They are part of a 333-strong Filipino
contingent to the UN Disengagement Force.
India, Austria and Croatia are
the other countries that provide the 1,000-strong force.
As of two weeks
ago, Manila was set on keeping its forces in the area, but had readied a
contingency plan for their immediate withdrawal, Calogne said.
know if this will change the dynamics,” he said.
Calogne said he had
heard throughout the day from both government officials and private Israeli
citizens expressing their support and concern.
Meanwhile, Amos Gilad,
head of the Defense Ministry’s diplomatic- security bureau, told Israel Radio
that the UN could be “trusted to persuade” the rebels to free the hostages. The
rebels were not keen on “getting into a confrontation with the international
community,” he said.
The United Nations says around 70,000 people have
been killed in the uprising that erupted in March 2011.
At least four
videos uploaded to the Internet on Thursday showed groups of between three and
six peacekeepers, saying they stopped in Jamla for their own safety during heavy
bombardment – comments that contrasted with a statement from the UN that said
they were detained by 30 armed rebels.
The Philippine government
condemned the capture of the peacekeepers – three officers and 18 enlisted men –
which it called a “gross violation of international law.”
In a video
released to announce the capture of the UN convoy on Wednesday, a member of the
Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade accused the peacekeepers of collaborating with Assad’s
forces to try to push them out of Jamla, which the rebels seized on Sunday after
A Facebook statement issued later in the name of the
Yarmouk Martyrs denied the UN soldiers had been detained and said they were
being protected from bombardment by Assad’s forces.