Handover of peacekeepers delayed
Horses stand in a field near an old tank in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Syrian rebels still hold 21 UN peacekeepers near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in southern Syria. Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters
The United Nations had arranged for the release of 21 peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels earlier this week but had to call off the handover due to what it
determined were unsafe conditions, a UN peacekeeping spokeswoman said today.
"Arrangements were made with all parties for the release of the 21 peacekeepers," the spokeswoman said.
"UN Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) dispatched a team to the location but due to the late hour and the darkness it was considered unsafe to continue the operation. Efforts will continue tomorrow."
The peacekeepers are part of the Undof, which has been monitoring a ceasefire line between Syria and Israel on the Golan Heights since 1974.
UN officers yesterday held talks with a Syrian rebel group holding the peacekeepers. Israel has stated that it will not “stand idle” if threatened.
Rebel Free Syrian Army commander Salim Idriss yesterday pledged to “do everything I can to liberate them” although he has little or no control over armed factions operating under the Free Army umbrella.
The 21 Filipinos were seized on Wednesday by a faction called Martyrs of the Yarmouk, said to be fundamentalist jihadists. This followed the earlier disappearance of another member of the 1,000-member Undof.
The rebel faction’s spokesman, Abu Qaed al-Faleh, had originally said the peacekeepers would be held until government forces pulled back from the rebel-held village of Jamlah, east of the Golan Heights, and warned that the Syrian army would be responsible if the men were harmed.