MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Syrian rebels who seized 21 Filipino U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights want the Red Cross to escort them out of the area because of fighting with Syrian government forces, the Philippine military said Friday.
The 21 peacekeepers were seized Wednesday near the Syrian village of Jamlah, just a mile from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights in an area where the U.N. force had patrolled a cease-fire line between Israel and Syria without incident for nearly four decades.
Philippine military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos said that the rebels were willing to release the peacekeepers, and asked for the International Committee of the Red Cross to escort them to a safe area.
According to Burgos, the rebels said the peacekeepers have to be removed because there was heavy fighting in the area.
He said the information came from the U.N. command in the Golan Heights, which was negotiating for the release of the peacekeepers.
"They want the ICRC to pick them up and escort them," Burgos said. "Hopefully they will really be released and we are also waiting for that."
The peacekeepers said in videos posted online that they were being treated well.
"To our family, we hope to see you soon and we are OK here," said a peacekeeper shown in one video. He was one of three troops dressed in camouflage and blue bullet-proof vests emblazoned with the words U.N. and Philippines.
However, a rebel spokesman seemed to suggest the hostages were also serving as human shields. If the U.N. troops are released and leave the area, the regime could kill "as many as 1,000 people," said the spokesman, who spoke via Skype and did not give his name for fear of reprisals.
The U.N. and the Philippine government condemned the seizure of the peacekeepers and called on the rebels to immediately release them.