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U.N. claims deal to free peacekeepers in Syria

| Friday, March 8, 2013, 9:09 p.m.

UNITED NATIONS — Arrangements have been made with all parties for the release of 21 U.N. peacekeepers held captive by Syrian rebels, although the operation was delayed as darkness fell Friday, the United Nations said

A team of peacekeepers was sent Friday to bring back their colleagues, who are being held in the village of Jamlah near the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, said Josephine Guerrero, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Peacekeeping Department.

Because of the late hour and darkness “it was considered unsafe to continue the operation” but efforts will resume Saturday, she said.

The captive troops, all Filipinos, are from a peacekeeping mission that had monitored a cease-fire line between Israel and Syria without incident for nearly four decades. Their abduction Wednesday illustrated the sudden vulnerability of the U.N. mission amid spillover from Syria's civil war. It sent a worrisome signal to Israel, which fears lawlessness along the shared frontier if Syrian President Bashar Assad is ousted.

Earlier, U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters that the Filipinos are being held in the basements of four or five houses in Jamlah.

The peacekeepers are apparently safe, he said, but the village “is subjected to intense shelling by the Syrian armed forces.”

“As of now, there is perhaps a hope — but I have to be extremely cautious because it is not done yet — but there is the possibility that a cease-fire of a few hours can intervene which would allow for our people to be released,” he said after briefing the U.N. Security Council.

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