Bombing delays Pinoys' release in Syria
BEIRUT, Lebanon (3rd UPDATE) - A UN convoy that entered into the Syrian village of Jamla on Friday, March 8, to pick up 21 UN Philippine peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels pulled out when the army shelled the area, a watchdog told AFP.
"When the UN vehicles entered into Jamla, the Syrian army shelled a nearby village. The UN cars then withdrew from Jamla," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman, who said earlier that the group was willing to hand over their captives.
Eight UN vehicles earlier entered Syria's Golan village of Jamla to pick up the seized Filipinos.
In New York, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said Jamla was under intense bombardment from army forces, though he did not specify whether he was referring to the village or areas surrounding Jamla.
Ladsous also said he hoped a possible ceasefire would lead to the freeing of the peacekeepers, who have been held by rebels since Wednesday.
The UN Disengagement Observer Force has been tasked since 1974 with ensuring a ceasefire between Israel and Syria is respected in the Golan Heights, large parts of which are occupied by the Jewish state.
On Wednesday, the rebel Yarmuk Martyrs brigade claimed the capture of the Filipinos soldiers. They said they would hold them until troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad withdrew from the area of Jamla, which lays east of the ceasefire line.
On Friday, the rebels called for a ceasefire, to allow the peacekeepers' evacuation.
Earlier, the Syrian opposition said the rebels were ready to set the Filipinos free under one condition -- that the Red Cross is dispatched to pick them up.
“The revolutionaries are completely ready to turn in the peacekeepers to the United Nations under one condition – that the Red Cross should come and pick them up, and also the Red Cross should evacuate the injured, innocent civilians,” said Syrian opposition coalition president Moaz al-Khatib in an exclusive CNN interview on Thursday, March 7.
The Philippine government had expected their release Thursday.
But Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the rebels are demanding that Syrian troops move 20 kilometers back from Jamla.
"The demand of the rebels for the repositioning of Syrian forces in the area of Jamla is still outstanding so this is still being worked out," he told a Philippine TV station Friday.
"We are trying to intensify our negotiations with the rebel groups," he said adding that the hostages were nonetheless being treated well. - with reports from Agence France-Presse