Armed fighters linked to the Syrian opposition detained 21 UN peacekeepers from the Philippines on Wednesday in the increasingly volatile zone separating Israeli and Syrian troops on the Golan Heights, a new escalation in the spillover of Syria's civil war.
The UN Security Council demanded their immediate and unconditional release.
In Manila, Philippine officials that Syrian rebels were holding 21 Filipino peacekeepers "as guests."
Early Thursday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said the UN commander on the ground told him that negotiations were progressing. He said he was told "by tomorrow, they expect all of these 21 to be released."
Philippine military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos said the peacekeepers were in a military convoy when they were "suddenly held at one Syrian rebel outpost. They were allowed to go through the first outpost but were stopped at the second outpost."
The troops, part of a Philippine contingent of 300 peacekeepers, were taken to a "safe area" after their vehicles were taken, he said.
The capture comes a week after the announcement that a member of the peacekeeping force is missing. The force, known as UNDOF, was established a year after the 1973 Yom Kippur war. It monitors the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces and maintains a cease-fire.
Israeli officials have grown increasingly jittery as the Syrian war moves closer to Israel. There have been several instances in which stray fire has landed in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, and Israel is concerned that Syrian weapons could fall into the hands of hostile groups and be used against Israel.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and Syria wants the land returned in exchange for peace.
Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the current Security Council president, said the capture of the peacekeepers "is particularly unacceptable and bizarre" because the UNDOF peacekeepers are unarmed and their mission has nothing to do with Syria's internal conflict.
"They are there on a completely different mission so there is no reason at all under any circumstances, any kind of sick imagination to try to harm those people," he said.
Churkin said UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, who briefed the council behind closed doors, identified the captors as being from a group associated with the Syrian armed opposition...
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the capture of the 21 peacekeepers, UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said.
READ FULL SOURCE ARTICLE: 03/07/2013
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