U.N. peacekeepers freed: Syrians release 21 hostages
Syrian rebels have released 21 U.N. peacekeepers held hostage for four days. The peacekeepers crossed from Syria to safety in Jordan on Saturday afternoon.
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It called on the U.N. to "unequivocally condemn the attacks of those terrorist groups against civilians and work to dislodge those terrorist groups immediately from the region."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Syria's civil war: a Middle East crisis
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The Syria government says the uprising is a foreign-backed conspiracy to weaken the country carried out by "terrorists" — its blanket term for the opposition.
Many rebel groups operate independently, despite efforts by the Syrian opposition to unify the fighters under one command. The abduction appeared to have been such a local initiative, and leaders of the political opposition repeatedly urged the Jamlah rebels to free the hostages.
The peacekeepers are part of a U.N. monitoring mission known as UNDOF. It was set up in 1974, seven years after Israel captured the plateau and a year after it managed to push back Syrian troops trying to recapture the territory in another regional war.
The U.N. monitors have helped enforce a stable truce between Israel and Syria.
But in recent months, Syrian mortar shells overshooting their target have repeatedly hit the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. In Israel's most direct involvement so far, Israeli warplanes struck inside Syria in January, according to U.S. officials who said the target was a convoy carrying anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia allied with Assad and Iran.
Israeli officials have expressed concern that the violence might prompt UNDOF to end its mission.
On Friday, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said "the mission in the Golan needs to review its security arrangements and it has been doing that."
He said the mission has been looking at different scenarios and arrangements on how to operate "in these new rather difficult and challenging circumstances."
It was the first time that Filipino peacekeepers, of whom 600 are deployed worldwide and 333 in the Golan Heights, have been seized. The incident has prompted President Benigno Aquino III to review the Philippines' contributions to U.N. peacekeeping operations.
The Syria conflict began two years ago, starting with largely peaceful protests against Assad. A harsh regime crackdown triggered an armed insurgency that has turned into a full-scale civil war.
The U.N. estimates that the conflict has claimed more than 70,000 lives and forced nearly 4 million people from their homes. The fighting has devastated large areas of the country.
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