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UN peacekeepers released by Syrian rebels

Ugarit News via AP file

In this image taken from video obtained from the Ugarit News, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a man reads a statement as four abducted Filipino UN peacekeepers are seen in Daraa, Syria, on Thursday, May 9, 2013. The peacekeepers have now been released.

Four Filipino United Nations peacekeepers abducted last week by armed men while patrolling in the demilitarized area between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights have been released, officials said Sunday.


U.N. officials and the Philippine army both said that the four are in good health.

The rebels from the Yarmouk Martyrs' Brigade had said they were holding the soldiers for their own safety after clashes with Syrian government forces had put them in danger, Reuters reported.

They were seized on Tuesday as they patrolled close to an area where the same rebel group held 21 Filipino observers for three days in March.

A rebel spokesman said the four were handed over on Sunday morning at a border checkpoint called Beit Ara, in an area where the Jordanian and Israeli borders join with the Golan Heights.

"They have been handed over in a spot in the Yarmouk Valley," Abu Iyas al-Horani told Reuters.

Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario confirmed to Reuters in Manila that the four had been released.

Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan, a spokesman for the Philippine armed forces, said the four had already been taken back to their battalion in the U.N. peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights.

The Philippines said it aimed to pull out 342 soldiers on peacekeeping duties in Golan after the abduction.

Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East War and later annexed them, a move not recognized internationally.

Meanwhile, at least 82,000 people have been killed and 12,500 others are missing after two years of civil war in Syria, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday.

Most of the dead were killed by troops and militia loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and most of the missing are believed to have been detained by the government's secret police and other loyalists, the monitoring group said.

"The vast majority of civilian victims were killed by the regime. Killings in unofficial jails are commonplace, and the conditions under which prisoners are held are horrific," said Rami Abdulrahman, the Observatory's president.

The Observatory, established by Abdulrahman in Britain seven years ago, said 4,788 children were among the 34,473 civilians killed. Another 12,916 anti-Assad fighters were killed, along with 1,924 army deserters, it said.

On the loyalist side, 16,729 troops and 12,000 militiamen and informers have been killed. The report said the fate of around 2,500 loyalist troops believed to be held by rebels is unknown.

Reuters contributed to this report