A new video has been released by Syrian rebels today showing the 21 captured UN hostages alive and well. The hostages, soldiers from the Philippines who were in Syria as part of the Syria-Israel border monitoring team, were captured yesterday by rebels, who have accused them of being in league with the Syrian government.
The group that captured them, the Martyrs of Yarmouk, has since backed off its more hostile rhetoric and is now calling the hostages “guests” in the village of Jamla, just across the border from Israel. They are continuing to demand Syria cede villages to them in return for their release.
Rebels and government forces have been fighting over villages along the Golani frontier, which had already prompted both Croatia and Japan to withdraw their troops from the UN mission. The fighting is continuing, and with the hostage situation there is concern that the remaining monitors may withdraw as well.
At present all of the UN troops are from the Philippines, India, and Austria. Israel has expressed concern that the pullout would endanger the ceasefire, in place since the 1974 war, but with fighting getting so intense along the border there seems little interest among either Syrian rebels or regime to draw Israel into the civil war.
UN officials and the Philippines government say negotiations are ongoing with the Syrian rebels and they expect to secure the release of the hostages soon. Exactly what price will be exacted is unclear, but the incident is likely to raise more concerns about Western efforts to arm the rebels, if they can’t even be counted on not to kidnap random UN monitors.
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