Syria Rebels Free UN Peacekeepers Abducted in Golan

Al-Jazeera reports peacekeepers 'transferred' to Israel; this was the second time in two months that Filipino peacekeepers have been abducted by rebels, apparently from the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade

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Syrian rebels have freed four Filipino United Nations peacekeepers who they had captured on the cease-fire line between Syria and the GolanHeights last week, al Jazeera English television reported on Sunday.

The channel quoted sources as saying the four had been"transferred to Israel".

This was the second time in two months that Filipino peacekeepers have been abducted by rebels in the region.

Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario confirmed to Reuters in Manila that the four had been released. The ministry will issue a statement later in the day, he said.

The rebel Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade had said they were holding the peacekeepers for their own safety after clashes in the areahad put them in danger. There was no immediate word from the rebel group itself on Sunday.

An Israeli official in Jerusalem said: "From what I understand, they were returned to the UN position they were abducted from."

Del Rosario said Friday that he had recommended President Benigno Aquino III pull out all Filipino UN peacekeepers from the Golan Heights following the abduction. Del Rosario said the government believes the exposure of the country's 342 peacekeepers "is beyond tolerable limits."

Aquino will have the final say in the matter. It is not clear when the decision will be made.  "We have sent a recommendation to the president and as soon as he says go, we will undertake to do that as soon as possible," del Rosario told reporters.

He added: "We have to worry about the safety of our people ... we don't want to unnecessarily expose our people there."

Syrian rebels seized the four peacekeepers along the UN-patrolled demarcation line separating the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria on Tuesday, only two months after 21 Filipino peacekeepers were abducted and held for three days by the rebels in the same area.

A video emerged online Thursday that purportedly shows the abducted peacekeepers, who appeared unhurt. A bearded man, believed to be with the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, read out a statement saying the peacekeepers had been moved to another location for their own safety as fighting raged between Syrian government troops and rebels.

The statement did not specify where the peacekeepers were being held, nor conditions for their release.

A UN peacekeeper from the UNDOF force looks through binoculars as he guards on a watch tower at the Quneitra Crossing between Syria and the Golan Heights, Friday, March 8, 2013.Credit: AP

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