Syrian rebels claim UN peacekeepers free to go

Syrian rebels claim UN peacekeepers free to go

United Nations doesn’t confirm report that Filipino soldiers who were kidnapped near Israeli border are on their way home

The four UN peacekeepers kidnapped near the Israeli border are to be released and are awaiting pickup by the United Nations, a spokesperson for the Syrian rebel group detaining the Filipino soldiers near the Israeli border told The Times of Israel Wednesday.

According to the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade spokesman, the UN negotiated safe passage with Syrian Army forces in the area, and the UNDOF peacekeeping troops were released and were waiting for the Red Cross to collect them.

A United Nations spokesperson contacted by The Times of Israel could not confirm the report at the time of publication, nor could a Red Cross spokesperson.

Earlier in the day, the brigade released a video that appeared to show its captives alive and well, amid statements from the UN that negotiation for their release was underway.

The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, a rebel group operating near the juncture of the Jordanian, Syrian, and Israeli borders, kidnapped the four Filipino peacekeepers on Wednesday during intense clashes between the Syrian army and opposition forces in the area. The group claimed that the men were being held for their own protection.

The UN said that peacekeepers maintained their presence monitoring the separation of Israeli and Syrian forces along the ceasefire line, but added that some of the UNDOF forces were moved because of the increasingly tenuous security situation.

“UNDOF continues to do its utmost to ensure the implementation of its mandate while mitigating risk to its personnel,” UN peacekeeping spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero said. “In light of the evolving security situation, peacekeepers from Position 86 have been relocated.”

The peacekeepers will be moved back to the position once fighting dies down, said Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Position 86 is located opposite the Syrian village of Jamlah, where the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade kidnapped and detained 21 peacekeepers in March and held the four peacekeepers kidnapped on Tuesday.

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations tweeted that efforts to secure the men’s release were underway.

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US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice called the detention of the UN peacekeepers “unacceptable,’ saying they must be released immediately.

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