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Deadline expires for release of UN group in Syrian Golan


A group of 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels in the Golan were still being held on Saturday after the expiry of a deadline for their release, a watchdog said.

"There is nothing new. They have still not been freed, even though the rebels insist they are ready to free them at any moment," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman, who was in contact with the kidnappers.

On Friday, citing the rebels, he said an agreement had been reached between the Syrian regime and the UN for a cessation of hostilities between 0800 and 1000 GMT on Saturday to allow a Red Cross team to evacuate the 21 peacekeepers.

The agreement came after the failure of an earlier planned handover, with a UN convoy that had entered Jamla to pick up the group pulling out when the Syrian army shelled the area.

The situation in Jamla was calm early on Saturday, but by the end of the morning, "fighting broke out between rebels and soldiers, when the insurgents attacked an army unit in Aabdine, three kilometres (two miles) south of Jamla," Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The Filipinos, members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) monitoring the armistice line between Syria and Israel that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, were abducted just a mile to the Syrian side of the line on Wednesday.

The rebels have demanded that Syrian troops move 20 kilometres (12 miles) back from Jamla.