A Canadian lawyer working for a UN peacekeeping mission in Syria has escaped from rebel fighters who held him for eight months, according to the Syrian government.
Faisal Mekdad, Syrian deputy foreign minister, handed over Carl Campeau to a senior UN official in Damascus, Yacoub El-Hillo, on Thursday and lauded his escape.
Mekdad congratulated Campeau for managing to escape from "these criminal gangs" and said the Syrian government
"left no stone unturned to bring him back to the United Nations, his family and his people".
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria
A rebel source said at the time of Campeau's disappearance that he was being held for ransom by a rival brigade of Syrian rebels battling to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Campeau, a legal adviser to the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), went missing in mid-February. His capture was followed by the detention of 21 Filipino UNDOF observers by rebels.
The incident forced the mission to scale back patrols along a ceasefire line between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria. They were freed three days later.
UNDOF, which has been monitoring the area since 1974, has about 1,000 peacekeepers and civilian staff from India,
Nepal, Ireland, Fiji, Moldova, Morocco and the Philippines.
Peacekeepers from Austria, Croatia and Japan have pulled out because of the growing threat from Syria's 2-1/2 year civil war.
The Philippines said in July it would possibly keep its 342 soldiers in the ceasefire zone for six more months.
Journalist still held
In another development, the family of an American journalist missing in Syria for nearly a year will mark his 40th birthday with a plea for his safe return.
James Foley was last seen November 22 last year in northwestern Syria.
He was contributing videos to Agence France-Presse for the media company GlobalPost.
"We are in anguish that our son is still missing in Syria now for almost 11 months," Diane Foley, James' mother, told the Global Post.
"Almost one year of his life is gone. Jim will be 40 years old this Friday, October 18. We want to let him know how much we love him and how hard we are working to find him and bring him home."
The company says he likely was abducted by a pro-Syrian government military group but that the government has denied any involvement in the matter.
The news site said that after "extensive research and investigation, no conclusive evidence has been found indicating that Foley is being held by any rebel group".
Investigators said this summer they believe Foley is being held near Damascus with one or more Western journalists.
His parents, John and Diane Foley, will lead a prayer vigil on Friday evening at a church in Rochester.
James Foley was held by government forces in Libya in 2011 while covering that country's civil war.
He was released after six weeks.