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Fri Mar 8, 2013, 12:06 AM

U.N. Starts Talks to Free Peacekeepers Held by Syria Rebels

Source: New York Times

United Nations officials negotiated on Thursday with Syrian rebels who had seized a group of United Nations peacekeepers in the disputed Golan Heights region between Syria and Israel, as the rebels offered assurances of the peacekeepers’ well-being and appeared to back away from threats to hold them as hostages.

Israel, which has watched anxiously for spillover as the Syrian civil war has intensified, signaled Thursday that it had no intention of becoming embroiled in the situation. Amos Gilad, a senior official in the Defense Ministry, told Israel Radio that “we can rely on the U.N. to persuade” the insurgent fighters to release the peacekeepers, who are from the Philippines, and that “neither the rebels nor anyone else has an interest in clashing with the international community, which it needs for support.”

The authorities in Manila said the troops had not been harmed, and President Benigno S. Aquino III said he believed the peacekeepers would be viewed by both sides in the Syrian conflict as a “benign presence, so we don’t expect any further untoward incident to happen.”

The 21 peacekeepers seized Wednesday are part of a United Nations force that was set up to patrol the demilitarized zone along Syria’s Golan frontier after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, and their detention was the first time any United Nations forces had been drawn into the Syrian war.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/08/world/middleeast/syria-developments.html?_r=0

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