Middle East

Syria crisis: UN peacekeepers are released

Golan map

Four Filipino UN peacekeepers abducted by armed men while patrolling in the demilitarised area between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights have been released, officials have said.

The UN and the Philippine army both say that the four are in good health.

They are now with the Philippine battalion in the Golan Heights, a Philippine army spokesman told AFP.

Martyrs of Yarmouk rebels abducted them on Tuesday "for their own safety" amid clashes in the Yarmouk Valley.

Strategic significance

"They are fine, but as a matter of procedure they will have to undergo stress debriefing and a medical check-up," Philippine Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan told AFP.

"We are happy that this has been resolved and the soldiers have been released seemingly unharmed."

In March, the Martyrs of Yarmouk detained 21 UN observers from the Philippines, before releasing them three days later.

The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

Both countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was put in place to monitor the demilitarised zone. It has 917 lightly-armed military personnel from Austria, India, the Philippines, Morocco and Moldova.

UN spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero said the Filipino peacekeepers were abducted while patrolling near Position 86 inside the demilitarised zone, about 4km (2.5 miles) from the Jordanian border.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the detention of the four peacekeepers and called for their immediate release.

In a post on its Facebook page, the Martyrs of Yarmouk Brigade insisted the peacekeepers were not hostages. The heavy presence of Syrian government forces posed a danger to the peacekeepers, as well as "criminal elements" in the area, it said.