Four Filipino peacekeepers in Syria released

UN peacekeepers, including Filipinos, cross the Quneitra checkpoint between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights on March 07, 2013.

Story highlights

  • The four had been held nearly a week after being seized by armed men
  • State of their health is unclear after captivity
  • They are part of force that monitors the area between Syria and Golan Heights

Four U.N. peacekeepers were released Sunday, five days after they were seized by armed men while patrolling between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, an army official from the Philippines said.

Maj. Ramon Zagala, a spokesman for the Philippine Armed Forces, said the Filipino peacekeepers were with the commander of that country's troops in the Golan Heights.

"Last week was a challenge and we are very thankful for their safe release," Zagala said.

He said he could not provide an update on their health. They will return to Camp Ziouani, where doctors will examine them.

According to the U.N. news website, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement thanking the government of Qatar for its role in the safe release of the hostages.

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The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force monitors the area in accordance with the 1974 agreement between Syria and Israel negotiated after the Yom Kippur War.

In March, 22 peacekeepers were held for four days by rebels. The U.N. called on Syrian and rebel troops at that time to honor the impartiality of the U.N. troops.

    Tensions in the area have been heightened recently and Israel conducted strikes against Syria twice.

    The attacks, confirmed by a U.S. official last week, targeted a weapons storage site containing missiles and a Damascus research facility. The official stressed that Israel is concerned about Syria transferring weapons to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.