Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Rebels Issue Demands over U.N. Personnel ; Forces Held by Syrians Appear to Be Unharmed, Authorities in Manila Say

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Rebels Issue Demands over U.N. Personnel ; Forces Held by Syrians Appear to Be Unharmed, Authorities in Manila Say

Article excerpt

There was no immediate indication when the 21 captives, all from the Philippines, might be released. The authorities in Manila, though, said that the troops had not been harmed.

A group of U.N. peacekeepers from the Philippines who were seized in the disputed Golan Heights region between Syria and Israel two days earlier remained in captivity early Friday as their captors pressed demands for a redeployment of government forces nearby, the Philippine authorities said.

The rebels had offered assurances Thursday of the 21 peacekeepers' well-being and appeared to back away from threats to hold them as hostages. But Raul Hernandez, the spokesman for the Philippine Foreign Ministry, said Friday that the insurgents were still pressing for Syrian government forces to move away from the area around Al Jamlah, the village where the international troops were seized Wednesday.

"We are intensifying our negotiations with the rebel group," Mr. Hernandez said.

Al Jamlah lies close to the Golan Heights, controlled by Israel, where a U.N. force has patrolled since a cease-fire halted the 1973 October War.

Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the rebel Syrian Opposition Council, said Friday that when the peacekeepers were seized, their "convoy was at risk, which necessitated transferring them to a safe place." He said the area where they were detained had been under constant bombardment by Syrian artillery for a week. The rebels said Thursday they wanted Syrian troops to move with their heavy weaponry to open up an exit route for their captives. But the demand also seemed driven by tactical considerations in the nearly two-year-old Syrian conflict. Either way, the Syrian government seemed unlikely to accept such conditions.

Mr. Khatib told CNN on Friday that the rebels were prepared to release the peacekeepers if they could be handed over to the Red Cross. But in the confusion, as previous talks seemed to have reached an impasse, rebel fighters said no negotiations were under way.

Israel, which has watched anxiously for spillover as the Syrian civil war has intensified, signaled Thursday that it had no intention of becoming embroiled in the situation. …

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