MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Rebels who held 21 Filipino U.N. peacekeepers in Syria put blankets on their hostages to help them sleep through the cold nights and a rebel commander became visibly emotional when his group released the men, a U.N. peacekeeping official said Sunday.
Despite the good treatment they got from the insurgents fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, the peacekeepers were relieved to have survived the four-day ordeal unscathed and were thankful for U.N. and Philippine government efforts that set them free, said Philippine army Col. Cirilito Sobejano, who is the chief of staff of the U.N.'s monitoring mission in the Golan Heights.
The unarmed Filipino army soldiers, who were riding in trucks, were abducted by anti-Assad gunmen after providing water and food to other peacekeeping troops Wednesday in southern Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. After tough negotiations, they were freed Saturday on Jordan's border and taken to a hotel in the Jordanian capital of Amman, Philippine officials said.
A medical checkup showed the released hostages were all in good health.
"They were in high spirits. We were laughing about their experiences," Sobejano told The Associated Press by telephone from Amman. "They had a cordial relationship with their captors, who put blankets on them because it was very cold at night."
"When they were handed over in Jordan, a rebel commander got visibly sad," he said. "They were really treated as guests."
At the Amman hotel, the peacekeepers were welcomed with a "boodle fight" — a Philippine military mess-hall style of eating, where food is usually laid out on banana leaves atop a long table and soldiers eat with their hands, said army Col. Roberto Arcan, who heads the military's peacekeeping operations center in Manila.
Arcan said he talked by phone with one of the freed peacekeepers, army Maj. Dominador Valerio, who asked him to "please tell my wife I'm OK," Arcan said, adding he immediately relayed the good news to the officer's wife.
Raul Hernandez, spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, said Sunday that the plan was for the 21 peacekeepers to stay in Jordan for two days before they return to the Golan Heights.
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