The UN head of peacekeeping Herve Ladsous reported that the menwere held in the basements of houses close to the border withIsrael’s Golan Heights, which has been battered by heavy shellingfrom Syria.According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the two sidesagreed for a ceasefire to take effect between 10am and 12 pm (8-10GMT), a window for the UN to retrieve the captives. Arrangementshad already been in place for Friday, but the late hours and thedarkness were deemed unsafe conditions for such an operation. Therebels’ spokesman claimed that the convoy had been within akilometer of its destination, but couldn’t continue because ofheavy air bombardment of the area by Syrian government forces.However, there were other obstacles to the hostages’ release. Therebels were expected to free them earlier on Friday and hand themover to the Red Cross, yet they went back on their word,re-iterating their initial demands: that the Syrian governmentwithdraws from the village of Jamla. The changes in mood could beattributed to a lack of consensus within rebel ranks, who stressedearlier that the hostages were their “guests” and would never beharmed.The peacekeepers, who are part of the UN Disengagement ObserverForce (UNDOF), were abducted on Wednesday by a group callingthemselves the Martyrs of Yanouk. The attack happened in the GolanHeights, where the peacekeepers were monitoring the Syrian-Israeliceasefire since 1974. The area was claimed by Israel, but neverrecognized either by the Syrian government, or the internationalcommunity. News of the peacekeepers’ abduction was greeted withwidespread condemnation by the UN. The US called it “absolutelyunacceptable”, while the EU called such moves “seriousbreaches of international law.” Russia’s UN envoy VitalyChurkin said the seizure of the UN observers showed “grossdisrespect for the United Nations.”It’s not clear whether the militant group had changed theirintentions about the hostages due to international pressure orbecause they thought that holding UN personnel did not give themenough leverage to force the Syrian government troops out ofJamla.The incident will not make the UN withdraw its peacekeepingforce from the Golan Heights, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.Syrian ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, explained that Syriawas targeting rebel-held areas outside Jamla, never the villageitself. “The Syrian government forces are doing exactly whatthey have to do in order to safely bring back the peacekeepers,guarantee the safety and security of the inhabitants of thesevillages (and) get these armed group of terrorists out of thearea,” Ja’afari said.Syria’s bloody civil war has now been ongoing for two years,spilling over the Golan Heights ceasefire line, as well as Syria’sborder with Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, threatening to spread to theentire region.
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