UN hostages held on Syria-Israel border freed

Group, from the Philippines, transferred to Jordan after three days of captivity

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The Independent Online

UN peacekeepers taken hostage earlier this week by Syrian anti-government fighters on the Israeli border have been released.

The group of 21 Filipinos were taken by the Martyrs of Yarmouk rebel brigade, who demanded pro-Assad forces withdraw from the nearby town of Jamla.

And today UN officials confirmed that they had crossed safely into neighbouring Jordan.

Abu Mahmoud, a rebel who said he had crossed over into Jordan with them, said: "They are all on the Jordanian side now and they are in good health."

In Damascus, the office of UN-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, confirmed that the men had crossed into Jordan.

The Jordanian government initially appeared taken by surprise by the arrival of the peacekeepers, who had been expected to be retrieved instead by a UN convoy inside Syria and possibly taken to Damascus.

That convoy was held up earlier on Saturday in a village north of Jamla, a rebel activist said.

The hostages were from the UN Disengagement Observer Force, which has monitored the border between Syria and Israel under the terms of a 1974 ceasefire. The two countries are technically still at war.

In several videos released on Thursday, the peacekeepers said they were being treated well by civilians and rebels.

The UN said the captives had been detained by about 30 rebel fighters, but Abu Issam Taseel, a Martyrs of Yarmouk activist, said the men were "guests", not hostages, and were being held for their own safety.

The Martyrs of Yamouk are fighting in Syria's civil war, now in its third year, which is thought to have killed more than 70,000 and displaced one million.

The conflict has spilled periodically across the ceasefire line and Syria's borders with Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, threatening to engulf the region.

On Monday, Israel warned the UN Security Council that it could not be expected to "stand idle" as Syria's civil war spills over its border.