A Syrian rebel group, Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, released four U.N. peacekeepers Sunday. The Filipino soldiers were abducted last Tuesday in the Golan Heights.
The freed peacekeepers appeared to be unharmed as they passed through the Israeli checkpoint of Beit Ara. According to a rebel spokesman, the four men were held for their own security after clashes with regime forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad.
A YouTube screenshot of a video showing the detained peacekeepers. (Photo: The Jerusalem Post)
In a statement to the press, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties to respect the special status given to the UN mission. Ban also said he “appreciates the assistance of Qatar and of others involved in securing their safe release,” highlighting the small emirate’s continued influence among rebel groups fighting Syria’s civil war.
In response to the recent instability the Filipino government may pull its observers from the Golan Heights. Syrian rebels in the area also held 21 Filipino peacekeepers for a few days in March. Manila provides almost 350 soldiers, about one-third, of the peacekeeping mission which patrols the border between Syria and Israel. Japan, Croatia and Austria, which supplies the largest contingent of troops, are also considering withdrawing their troops from the 1,000 strong UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) that has been monitoring the areas since 1974.
As Syria’s civil war continues into its second year, the conflict continues to affect neighboring countries in the region. Turkish border towns experience Syrian related violence while both Turkey and Jordan are burdened by large influx of refugees. Concerns over weapons proliferation to terrorist groups brought at least three Israeli airstrikes in Syria. With ever more violence, the international community should contemplate being more involved, not less.