Middle East

Seized UN observers 'well treated' by Syrian rebels

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Media captionAmateur video posted online on Wednesday purportedly shows rebels surrounding UN-marked vehicles, as the BBC's Barbara Plett reports

Some of the 21 UN observers taken hostage by Syrian rebels have appeared in videos posted online saying they are safe and being well treated.

The Filipino monitors were seized by the Martyrs of Yarmouk group in the Golan Heights, near the Israeli border, on Wednesday.

The group said it would free the men if Syrian troops withdrew from the area.

The Philippines said the observers could be freed as early as Friday, but negotiations are still continuing.

The incident is a sign that the fighting between rebel groups and government troops of President Bashar al-Assad is spreading, and indicates a lack of central control among the rebels, correspondents say.

Up to 70,000 people have been killed and a million refugees have fled since the crisis in Syria began two years ago.

'Safe hands'

Several videos emerged on Thursday, showing groups of between three and six peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof).

The monitors said they were well treated after their capture in the village of Jamla.

"They will be passed to safe hands when possible - because the area is surrounded and the Assad regime is bombarding it," Abu Essam Taseel, a member of the Martyrs of Yarmouk, was quoted as saying by Reuters.


In Manila, Philippine President Benigno Aquino confirmed that the observers were safe and that the negotiations about their release were ongoing.

"By tomorrow they expect all of these 21 to be released," he said.

Manila earlier demanded the immediate release of its nationals.

The observers had been monitoring the ceasefire line between Syria and Israel, which captured the Heights in 1967.

The UN said they had been on "a regular supply mission" when they were stopped near an observation post by the armed men.

The UN has had its monitors in the area since the 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967 and later annexed the territory - in a move that is not internationally recognised.

Recently there has been fighting in the eastern foothills of the Golan Heights between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels.

Israel has said its policy is not to get involved in the Syrian conflict. However, in recent months it has retaliated when there has been Syrian fire into Israeli-controlled areas.

Israel has also reinforced a fence that runs along the armistice line, and officials say Syrian refugees will not be allowed into Israel en masse.