Syria shelling halts UN bid to rescue peacekeepers

| Updated on: Mar 09, 2013

A UN convoy attempting to pick up 21 Filipino peacekeepers that their Syrian rebel captors had agreed to free was forced back by a barrage of army shelling today, a watchdog said.

In New York the United Nations said efforts to secure the peacekeepers would resume tomorrow.

“Arrangements were made with all parties for the release of the 21 peacekeepers,” said UN peacekeeping spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero, “but due to the late hour and the darkness it was considered unsafe to continue the operation. Efforts will continue tomorrow.”

UN peacekeeping Chief Herve Ladsous said the village where the soldiers are being held came under intense shelling.

That was denied by Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari, who said everything was being done to get them out safely.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said a UN convoy entered the village of Jamla to collect the peacekeepers but the army shelled the area.

“When the UN vehicles entered into Jamla, the Syrian army shelled a nearby village. The UN cars then withdrew from Jamla,” said Abdel Rahman.

Ladsous expressed the hope that a possible ceasefire would lead to the freeing of the peacekeepers, who have been held by Syrian rebels since Wednesday.

“That village is subject to intense shelling by the Syrian armed forces,” he said. “There is perhaps a hope, but it is not done yet... that a ceasefire of a few hours can intervene which would allow for our people to be released.”

The peacekeepers “have been spread into five or four locations within that village in the basement of various houses.”

Jaafari insisted Syrian forces were doing “everything in order to bring back safely the terrorists.”

“Syrian forces are not targeting the village,” he said.

The Filipinos, members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) monitoring the armistice line between Syria and Israel that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, were abducted just one mile to the Syrian side of the line.

The rebels are demanding that Syrian troops move 20 km back from Jamla, an area at the southern end of the armistice zone in the Golan, Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said.

He said Manila had received information suggesting the 21 peacekeepers would be released today.

“We are trying to intensify our negotiations with the rebel groups,” he said adding that the hostages were nonetheless being treated well.

The Observatory said the rebels had added a fresh demand.

“They are now demanding a new condition — that the International Committee of the Red Cross guarantees the safe exit from the strife-torn area of Jamla of civilians,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Published on March 12, 2018

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