Middle East

Freed UN hostages in Jordan after Syria release

Jordanian Foreign Minister, Nasser Judeh, right, welcomes 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers after their arrival in Amman, 9 March 2013.
Image caption The 21 peacekeepers were welcomed to Jordan by Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh

A group of 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers captured by rebels in Syria have arrived in Jordan after being released.

Rebels moved the hostages themselves after a UN team hoping to collect them inside Syria was prevented from doing so by government shelling.

Fighters from the Martyrs of Yarmouk group seized the soldiers on the Golan Heights, near Israel, on Wednesday.

UN observers have been stationed in the Golan Heights since 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

According to the UN, the Filipino peacekeepers were on a regular supply mission when they were stopped by armed men near an observation post.

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Media captionThe UN's Mokhtar Lamani: "Thank God all of them are alive and safe."

They were held in the village of Jamla, about 1.6km (1 mile) east of the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and 10km north of Jordan.

Some appeared in videos online, saying they were being treated well.

The rebels demanded the withdrawal of Syrian government forces from the area before proceeding with the release.

A UN team had been due to go into Syria on Saturday afternoon to collect the peacekeepers, under a truce between the warring sides.

However, the convoy stopped several kilometres away because of continuing fighting between government and rebel forces.

Instead, the rebels took the hostages to the Jordanian border.

The peacekeepers were later welcomed to Amman by Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

Mr Judeh said he had spoken to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to reassure him that Jordan would "provide them with all the assistance they need".

Mokhtar Lamani, a UN envoy in Damascus: said: "Thank god, all of them are alive and are safe."

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) - the main rebel fighting force - condemned the seizure of the UN observers.

Correspondents say the incident is a sign that the fighting between rebel groups and government troops of President Bashar al-Assad is spreading, and indicates a lack of central control among the rebels.