UN peacekeepers enter Jordan after Syria captivity

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A U.N. peacekeeper from the UNDOF force stands guard on a watch tower at the Quneitra Crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, Friday, March 8, 2013. Syrian rebels who seized 21 Filipino U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights want the Red Cross to escort them out of the area because of fighting with Syrian government forces, the Philippine military said Friday. The 21 peacekeepers were seized Wednesday near the Syrian village of Jamlah, just a mile from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights in an area where the U.N. force had patrolled a cease-fire line between Israel and Syria without incident for nearly four decades. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

BEIRUT (AP) — U.N. peacekeepers who had been held captive by Syrian rebels for four days began crossing the border to freedom in Jordan on Saturday, according to two officials monitoring the area.

Further details were not immediately available, including how many of the 21 peacekeepers had reached safety.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in exchange for releasing the information ahead of official confirmation.

The peacekeepers, all Filipinos, were seized Wednesday by Syrian rebels who initially said they would only free the hostages if Syrian regime forces withdraw from the area. They were being held in the village of Jamlah, near the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

U.N. officials said arrangements were in place for the release of the Filipino peacekeepers, but a rescue mission on Friday was aborted because of regime shelling in the area.

The U.N. force has been monitoring an Israeli-Syrian cease-fire for four decades without incident, and the abduction of the 21 men added another destabilizing twist to Syria's civil war.

The Syria conflict began two years ago, starting with largely peaceful protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad. A harsh regime crackdown triggered an armed insurgency that has turned into a full-scale civil war.

The U.N. estimates that the conflict has claimed more than 70,000 lives and forced nearly 4 million people from their homes. The fighting has devastated large areas of the country.


Associated Press writers Diaa Hadid in Jerusalem, Ben Hubbard in Beirut and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.