Israel Won't Intervene for Release of UN Peacekeepers Seized by Syrian Rebels in Golan, Says Defense Official

Amos Gilad says the Israel Defense Forces taking a 'low profile' but following events in Syria closely, confident UN will secure their release; Philippines says talks underway.

Israel voiced confidence on Thursday that the United Nations could secure the release of UN peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels near the Golan Heights, signaling it would not intervene in the crisis.

"Restricting the movement of troops in an international force is a significant event," Amos Gilad, a senior Defense Ministry official, told Israel Radio. "The United Nations ... can be trusted to persuade them [the rebels] ultimately to free them."

Gilad said the rebels, seeking foreign support, had no interest "in getting into a confrontation with the international community".

The Israel Defense Forces, he said, was taking a "low profile" but following events in Syria closely. Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day-War, and mortar fire from Syria's civil war has occasionally spilled over into the strategic plateau.

Peacekeepers of the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) mission have been monitoring a ceasefire line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied heights for nearly four decades.

Rebels holding the 21 unarmed Filipino peacekeepers near the Golan Heights said Syrian government forces must leave the area before they free them, an activist in touch with the fighters said.

The Philippine government said earlier Thursday that talks were underway for the release of the peacekeepers. Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said the peacekeepers, who were detained on Wednesday, were unharmed and were being treated as "visitors and guests."

Hernandez told reporters in Manila that the UN force commander in the area was negotiating with the leader of the rebel group, whose demands concerned the positioning of Syrian government forces in the area. He said there was no deadline for the negotiations.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said earlier Thursday that the UN force commander told him to expect the peacekeepers to be released within 24 hours, with negotiations progressing well. The UN Security Council demanded their immediate and unconditional release.

The capture came 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.