U.N. Peacekeepers Seized in Syria Arrive Safe in Jordanإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
The United Nations welcomed the release on Saturday of 21 Filipino peacekeepers, who had been seized by Syrian rebels on the Golan Heights, as they crossed to freedom in Jordan after a three-day ordeal.
Philippine authorities also expressed relief at the release of the 21 members of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
A Jordanian military official said the peacekeepers were greeted by border guards as they crossed from Syria in the afternoon and "underwent medical examinations."
They then boarded an army bus and were given a military escort to the east Amman headquarters of the armed forces where they were "handed over to the U.N. representative in Jordan Costanza Farina in the presence of the Philippines ambassador," the official added in a statement.
An Agence France Presse correspondent said the peacekeepers were also greeted by Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, government spokesman Samih Maaytah and Chief of Staff Mashaal al-Zebn.
They are members of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) monitoring the armistice line between Syria and Israel that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
The men were seized by rebels Wednesday near the armistice line with Israel in the first abduction of its kind since the the start of an uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad two years ago.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "appreciates the efforts of all concerned to secure their safe release," said a statement from his office in New York after the Filipinos crossed over from Syria.
"The secretary general emphasizes to all parties the impartiality of United Nations peacekeepers," it added.
The Philippine military spokesman told AFP no decision had been taken about where the peacekeepers would go next but that Manila's envoy to Amman "will be directly coordinating with the Jordanian authorities for their turnover to us."
"The Filipino U.N. peacekeeping contingent's (to the Golan Heights) commander, Colonel Cirilito Sobejana, is now on his way to Jordan to meet his men," said Manila Colonel Arnulfo Burgos.
Ambassador Olivia V Palala earlier told AFP all the men were "safe and sound" and that future plans for them would be made in coordination with the United Nations.
The peacekeepers were abducted by rebels from the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade in Jamla village just a mile to the Syrian side of the armistice line with Israel that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, in the village of Jamla.
The rebels had made conditions for their release, namely that Syrian troops move 20 kilometers (12 miles) back from Jamla.
They also demanded that the International Committee of the Red Cross "guarantees the safe exit from the strife-torn area of Jamla of civilians," said the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman.
On Friday a U.N. attempt to pick up the peacekeepers was aborted when Syrian troops shelled the area.
Syria denied the shelling and the foreign ministry sent letters to Ban and the U.N. Security Council on Saturday "condemning attacks by terrorist groups against U.N. forces and residents" near the armistice line, state news agency SANA said.
It also called on the U.N. to "clearly condemn terrorist groups" -- the term used by the regime to describe the rebels, the official Syrian news agency added.
The abduction was condemned by world powers and triggered a flurry of diplomatic action to secure the peacekeepers' release.
It also sparked fears that more governments would withdraw their contingents from the already depleted U.N. mission.
Israel warned that any further reduction in UNDOF strength risked creating a security vacuum in the no-man's land between the two sides on the strategic Golan plateau, which it seized in the 1967 Six-Day War.