ICRC to receive 21 Pinoy soldiers if freed
MANILA, Philippines - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will facilitate the release of 21 FIlipino peacekeepers being held captive by Syrian rebels, ICRC-PH told Rappler.
"We confirmed to the Syrian opposition representatives our readiness to play the role of a neutral intermediary in the framework of the kidnapping of the (UN peacekeepers), provided that all the parties concerned agree," Cynthia Lee, spokesperson of the ICRC in the Philippines, said.
The ICRC earlier received an official request from the Syrian opposition representatives to receive the group seized by Syrian rebels.
ICRC has been in contact with all the parties involved in the negotiations and are following the situation closely, according to Lee. But ICRC clarified it is not involved in the negotiations, stressing that its role will be strictly limited to facilitating the release of the peacekeepers after the negotiation among all the parties concerned is concluded.
Freed during 2-hour truce
The group of 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers on the Golan Heights are expected to be freed Saturday, March 9, during a two-hour truce between the insurgents and government forces, a Britain-based watchdog said.
"An agreement has been reached between the Syrian regime and the United Nations to stop the bombing between 0800 GMT (4 pm, Manila time) and 1000 GMT (6:00 pm Manila time) on Saturday, March 9, in order to allow the evacuation of the 21 peacekeepers," Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP late Friday, March 8.
In the Philippines, a military spokesman said the government still expects its members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) to be released despite shelling late on Friday that prevented an earlier handover.
A UN convoy that entered the Syrian village of Jamla to pick up the group pulled out when the Syrian army shelled the area.
Army spokesman Colonel Randolph Cabangbang said in Manila on Saturday that the shelling had since stopped.
"After the shelling the two parties (UN and the rebels) resumed coordinating the arrangements for their release," Cabangbang told AFP.
"The planned venue of the handover was not actually shelled. It was the route that they planned to take," he added.
Another spokesman said government had confirmation from the ground the hostages were safe. "They are being kept (by the rebels) in a safe area," Col Arnulfo Burgos said.
The Filipinos were abducted just a mile to the Syrian side of the line between Syria and Israel. On Wednesday, the rebel Yarmuk Martyrs brigade claimed the capture of the Filipinos and said they would hold them until troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad withdrew from the Jamla area, east of the ceasefire line with Israel.
There has been fierce fighting recently around Jamlah village, which is held by opposition forces.
The UN said over 70,000 people have been killed and the number of refugees has reached the 1 million mark since the uprising against Assad's rule broke out in March 2011. - With reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com