Middle East

Philippines eyes Golan peacekeeper pull-out after abductions

File image from from 8 March 2013 shows a UN peacekeeper using binoculars on an observation tower in the largely abandoned city of Quneitra, in the demilitarized United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) zone, in the Golan Heights
Image caption Filipinos comprise about a third of the UN peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights

The Philippines' foreign minister says he wants to pull its peacekeepers from the UN force in the Golan Heights after four were seized by Syrian rebels.

Albert del Rosario said the soldiers were being held as human shields and that peacekeepers' exposure was "beyond tolerable limits".

The UN peacekeepers patrol the line separating Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

A total of 342 are Filipinos - about a third of the UN contingent.

The four peacekeepers were abducted by Syrian rebels on Tuesday. Two months ago Syrian rebels held 20 Filipino peacekeepers in the same area for a few days before releasing them.

Footage released online on Thursday showed the abducted peacekeepers and a rebel - thought to belong to the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, the group behind the March abduction - saying the four had been taken for their own safety because of fighting between Syrian rebels and government troops.

"The people that abducted our peacekeepers were actually under siege and they are using our people to get themselves out of the situation they find themselves in. That thing is not for us," Mr del Rosario said.

The foreign minister said it was up to President Benigno Aquino to make the final decision on a pull-out.

"We have sent a recommendation to the president and as soon as he says go, we will undertake to do that as soon as possible,'' he said.

A presidential spokesman said Mr Aquino was considering the situation.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said peacekeepers had been moved from the observation post from which the Filipino group were abducted, adding that efforts were ongoing to secure their release.

Moscow talks

In recent days diplomatic efforts to end the violence in Syria have been stepped up. British Prime Minister David Cameron was due in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday for talks on the crisis with President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier this week, Mr Cameron had said there was an urgent need to "force a political transition" in Damascus.

Russia is seen as a key player, with influence in Damascus - up until now it has been a staunch ally of President Bashar al-Assad and has provided the Syrian leader with military support, reports the BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow.

But Russia and the United States have now agreed on the need for an international peace conference by the end of the month.

Mr Cameron is due to discuss Syria with US President Barack Obama in Washington next week.

More than 70,000 people are said to have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began in March 2011.

Nearly 1.5 million Syrians have fled their country, and more than four million are thought to have been internally displaced, according to UN estimates.