Syrian rebels fail to free peacekeepers-A A +A
Friday, March 8, 2013
MANILA -- The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday that the Syrian rebels have failed to release the 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers and are sticking to their demands for repositioning of Syrian government forces.
The 21 peacekeepers were seized Wednesday near the Syrian village of Jamlah, just a mile from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, where the United Nations force has patrolled a ceasefire line between Israel and Syria for nearly four decades.
In a press conference on Friday, DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the rebels had been expected to release the Filipino peacekeepers early Friday, but it did not happen.
Hernandez said the rebels continue to demand that Syrian forces be repositioned somewhere in Jamlah, apparently to give space to the rebel forces.
Hernandez said: "We are intensifying our negotiations with the rebel group (that captured the 21 Filipino peacekeepers)."
"We continue to work with all stakeholders for the expeditious release of our Filipino U.N. peacekeepers," he added.
The rebels demand that Syrian troops pull back from the area around Jamlah, the village near the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. UN peacekeepers have been monitoring the armistice line since 1974.
Last week, rebels from the Martyrs of the Yarmouk Brigades, the group that is holding the peacekeepers, overran several Syrian army checkpoints in the area, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, head or the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
There are still regime positions nearby because of the strategic importance of the area. Rebels apparently fear that the regime will push to retake the territory if the peacekeepers are released, raising the possibility of a prolonged standoff.
The peacekeepers said in videos posted online that they were being treated well.
"To our family, we hope to see you soon and we are OK here," said a peacekeeper shown in one video. He was one of three troops dressed in camouflage and blue bullet-proof vests emblazoned with the words UN and Philippines.
A rebel spokesman seemed to suggest the hostages were also serving as human shields. If the U.N. troops are released and leave the area, the regime could kill "as many as 1,000 people," said the spokesman, who spoke via Skype and did not give his name for fear of reprisals.