U.N. peacekeepers released

By Patrick J. McDonnell

Los Angeles Times

Published: Saturday, March 9 2013 11:11 p.m. MST

BEIRUT (MCT) — Twenty-one United Nations peacekeepers held by rebels in southern Syrian were released Saturday and were safe in neighboring Jordan after a three-day ordeal that dramatized anew how the Syrian conflict has destabilized the region.

The U.N. confirmed the release and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement thanking "all concerned" for the troops' liberation.

Video showed the peacekeepers, all of them Filipino, arriving Saturday in the Jordanian capital, Amman. They wore their signature blue helmets and vests and appeared to be in good health.

The abduction and continued violence in southern Syria raises questions about the future of the U.N. peacekeeping mission along the Syria-Israel border in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The mission, which includes about 1,000 peacekeepers, had patrolled the zone for nearly 40 years largely without incident until the Syrian civil conflict began to undermine security.

The abduction Wednesday was a major embarrassment for Syria's fragmented opposition movement, which has received hundreds of millions of dollars in financial and material support from the U.N. and its allies, and is pushing for additional aid. The U.N. Security Council and the United States condemned the kidnapping and demanded the peacekeepers' release.

It was the latest illustration of the lack of central command and coordination among the many armed groups fighting to oust the government of President Bashar Assad. A group calling itself the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade seized the peacekeepers as they rode in a convoy on what the U.N. called a routine mission. Many armed factions in Syria appear to act autonomously.

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