Syrian rebels treated UN hostages like 'guests'

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 10, 2013 at 9:41 am •  Published: March 10, 2013
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But the abductions have raised concerns about the future of U.N. operations in the area.

A Filipino army major and his driver were held at a checkpoint in the Golan Heights by anti-Assad rebels last January but were released after about four hours, Arcan said.

The freed peacekeepers from a 326-member Filipino contingent in the Golan Heights are part of a U.N. mission known as UNDOF that was set up to monitor a cease-fire in 1974, seven years after Israel captured the plateau and a year after it pushed back Syrian troops trying to recapture the territory.

The truce's stability has been shaken in recent months, as Syrian mortar shells have hit the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, sparking worries among Israeli officials that the violence may prompt UNDOF to end its mission.

On Friday, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said "the mission in the Golan needs to review its security arrangements, and it has been doing that."

More than 600 Philippine security personnel are deployed in nine U.N. peacekeeping areas worldwide, Arcan said.

Asked if the incident in Syria would prompt the Philippines to withdraw its peacekeeping personnel around the world, military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said that the deployments would continue, but that assessments would be made to better safeguard the peacekeepers in increasingly hostile areas.

"This is a global commitment," Burgos said Sunday at a news conference in Manila.

President Benigno Aquino III said last week that he has asked the military to assess whether large numbers of Filipino peacekeepers should be reduced to help address his country's growing security needs.

"There is a delicate balance," Aquino said. "All of these deployments have a vital function. We are part of a global community. If there's peace in the Middle East, it also helps us."

But he asked: "Can we afford to send this number of people?"

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Associated Press writer Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.