Clashes Erupt Near Syrian Village Where UN Peacekeepers Are Being Held

Earlier reports said fighting subsided in Jamla, where 21 peacekeepers held hostage by rebels; Syrian troops, opposition agreed to brief Saturday truce so UN could retrieve them, fighting could complicate release efforts.

Clashes between Syrian rebels and regime forces erupted Saturday near a village where 21 UN peacekeepers are being held hostage, an activist said, following earlier reports that shelling had subsided in the area. The fighting could complicate efforts to free them.

Earlier Saturday, Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, said a contact in the Jamla area told him there was no shelling in the area where the Filipino peacekeepers have been held by rebels since Wednesday. They reported, however, that there was no sign that efforts to rescue the peacekeepers were under way.

The Observatory later reported that a gunfight had erupted about three kilometers south of Jamla, as rebels tried to seize an army checkpoint.

The peacekeepers - part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has been monitoring a ceasefire line between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights since 1974 -were seized by the Martyrs of Yarmouk rebel brigade on Wednesday.

They have been held in the village of Jamla, 1.6 km from the Golan Heights. After their capture, rebels described them as "guests" and said they would be freed once President Bashar al-Assad's forces pull back from around Jamla and stop shelling.

The United Nations and the Observatory said late on Friday that a two-hour truce had been agreed from 10 A.M. to noon during which the peacekeepers may be rescued.

A rescue effort on Friday was delayed by heavy bombardment and abandoned after nightfall, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said.

Assad is battling a two-year uprising in which the United Nations says 70,000 people have been killed, a million have fled to neighboring countries and millions more have been displaced and need aid.