No sign of freedom for UN Golan peacekeepers

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No sign of freedom for UN Golan peacekeepers

No sign of freedom for UN Golan peacekeepers
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Several members of a UN observer force near the Israeli occupied Golan Heights have been moved from their isolated position, after 21 colleagues were captured by Syrian rebels.

The troops, who have been overseeing a ceasefire between Israel and Syria since 1974, have already had to reduce their patrols according to a UN official.

The captives are from the Philippines contingent and were just 1.6 kilometres from Israeli-held lines when they were taken by a group calling itself the Martyrs of Yarmouk, who want the UN to negotiate a withdrawal of heavy Syrian armour from the area.

Raul Hernandez from the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs said: “What we are trying to do is to intensify the negotiations with the rebel group and also we have been endeavouring to work with the other stakeholders for the expeditious release of our peacekeepers.”

However Abu Essam Taseel, a spokesman for the Martyrs of Yarmouk said: “There are no negotiations between any parties.”

Taseel said the men were “guests”, not hostages, and were being held for their own safety in the village of Jamla.

But he added they would only be released once President Bashar al-Assad’s forces retreated from around Jamla and halted bombing there.

“Negotiations should be between (the United Nations) and the regime of Bashar al-Assad to stop the bombing and lift the blockade of the area so it can be safe,” Taseel said.

The Damascus government has not commented publicly about the incident.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had been approached by the Syrian opposition and was prepared to play a role in “receiving” the peacekeepers once they are released, but would not get involved in actual negotiations.