A United Nations convoy sent to Syria to retrieve 21 Filipino peacekeepers seized by fighters has been thwarted due to the Syrian army’s bombardment of the town where the hostages were held, a rebel spokesman has said.
Abu Essam Taseel, a representative of the Yarmouk Brigade, said on Friday that the convoy reached the village of Nafea, about a kilometre east of Jamla, where the peacekeepers were detained, but was unable to venture futher because of the government’s attacks.
Meanwhile, Herve Ladsous, the UN peacekeeping chief, said he hoped a brief ceasefire could be reached between the rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad to allow the peacekeepers to be taken to safety.
“Our 21 peacekeepers are detained in the village of Jamla. Apparently they are safe, they have been spread into four
locations within that village, in the basements of various houses,” Ladsous said after briefing the UN Security Council.
“That particular village [Jamla] is subject to intense shelling by the Syrian armed forces.”
“As of now there is perhaps a hope … there is the possibility that a ceasefire of a few hours can intervene which would allow for our people to be released.”
The troops were seized on Wednesday near Jamlah, just a kilometre from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, where the UN force has patrolled a ceasefire line between Israel and Syria for nearly four decades.
Raul Hernandez, a spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, said that his government continues to “work with all stakeholders for the expeditious release of our Filipino UN peacekeepers”.
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Taseel earlier said the captives would only be released once Assad’s forces retreated from around Jamlah 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.
‘We are OK’
The Philippine military had earlier said that rebels wanted the Red Cross to escort the captives out of the area.
The peacekeepers said in videos posted online that they were being treated well.
“We cannot go home because the government of Assad do not stop the bombing. To our family, we hope to see you soon and we are OK here,” they said.
A second video showed six peacekeepers sitting in a room. An officer, who identified himself as a captain said that as their convoy came under shelling on Wednesday, “we stopped and civilian people helped us for our safety and distributed us in different places to keep us safe”.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967.
The captive troops are part of a 300-strong Philippine contingent to a UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) that has been monitoring the separation of Israeli and Syrian troops since the 1974 armistice that followed the previous year’s Middle East war, in which Syria tried to retake Golan.