The United Nations called off an effort to secure the release of 21 Filipino peacekeepers held by a Syrian rebel group until Saturday because of darkness in the Golan Heights, a spokeswoman said, according to AFP.
“Arrangements were made with all parties for the release of the 21 peacekeepers,” said UN peacekeeping spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero.
Vehicles were sent to the village where the 21 are being held “but due to the late hour and the darkness it was considered unsafe to continue the operation. Efforts will continue tomorrow,” she added.
Reports earlier on Friday indicated that a UN convoy that entered the Syrian village of Jamla to pick up the 21 peacekeepers pulled out when the army shelled the area.
“When the UN vehicles entered into Jamla, the Syrian army shelled a nearby village. The UN cars then withdraw from Jamla,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
In New York, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said Jamla was under intense bombardment from army forces, though he did not specify whether he was referring to the village or areas surrounding Jamla.
Ladsous also said he hoped a possible ceasefire would lead to the freeing of the peacekeepers, who have been held by rebels since Wednesday.
The UN Disengagement Observer Force has been tasked since 1974 with ensuring a ceasefire between Israel and Syria is respected in the Golan Heights.
On Wednesday, the rebel Yarmuk Martyrs brigade claimed the capture of the Filipinos soldiers. They said they would hold them until troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad withdrew from the area of Jamla, which lays east of the ceasefire line.
On Friday, the rebels called for a ceasefire, to allow the peacekeepers’ evacuation. The Philippines had indicated that the rebels were still insisting Syrian troops leave the area before releasing their captives.
On Thursday the Al-Jazeera network broadcast a video of six of the observers who were abducted.
The Philippine battalion commander said his troops are safe, adding, “We are here because while we were passing from Position [unclear], there were bombings and artillery fires. That is why we stopped and civilian people helped us for our safety, and distributed us in different places to keep us safe. And they gave us good accommodations and gave us food to eat and water to drink.”
The troops were wearing their own uniforms and did not show signs of having been abused.
Israel had expressed concern that the UN peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights could pull out altogether because of the kidnapping.
The Yediot Aharonot daily said Thursday that Israeli officials were concerned that the UN force in the area would “be dismantled and that al-Qaeda members will take control of the buffer zone between Israel and Syria. There is concern that al-Qaeda will take over this buffer zone and the villages near Israel,” the paper said of the 80-kilometer (50-mile) strip of land which is between half a kilometer and 10 kilometers wide (500 yards to six miles).
Reports on Thursday indicated that Israel has approached the UN and UNDOF, requesting that the forces’ activity not be impaired due to the kidnapping of the 21 peacekeepers.