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Reports: Captured Golan Peacekeepers To Be Released Tomorrow

The United Nations is expressing hopes that 21 Filipno U.N. peacekeepers captured this week by Syrian rebels will be released on Saturday. A bid to secure their release was aborted on Friday, and they are now set to be freed tomorrow during two-hour truce between the Syrian army and the opposition.

Opposition officials had previously said the peacekeepers would be held until forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pulled back from areas around the town of al Jamla.

The crisis began earlier this week when a group of rebels from the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade captured the U.N. troops, who are part of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) that since 1973 has monitored the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire on the Golan Heights. The opposition group uploaded videos to YouTube showcasing the peacekeepers and their marked U.N. trucks. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. Security Council immediately demanded the troops’ release.

The future of UNDOF is in jeopardy because of the conflict. Until last month the mission was staffed by about 1,000 troops from Austria, Croatia, India, and the Philippines. Citing safety fears, Croatia announced last week it was withdrawing its 100 troops. Canada and Japan had already withdrawn their small contingent. Today eight UNDOF peacekeepers abandoned their post and fled to Israel at the orders of their commanders.

The IDF is preparing for the power vacuum that will emerge in the aftermath of an UNDOF collapse:

The IDF is prepared for the possibility of an UNDOF withdrawal, just as it is ready for the presence of groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra (The Salvation Front), a rebel organization set up by al-Qaida in Iraq. According to recent security evaluations, radical rebel elements have established control in a number of Syrian villages close to the Israeli border, and are now in the midst of intense fighting with the Syrian army in the village of Jamla, also close to the border. Israel has long been on high – yet quiet – alert on its border with Syria, as the IDF observes the battles taking place under its nose, just over the frontier.

Recent weeks have seen mortar fire and tank shells from the Syrian side of the border impact Israeli communities in the central and south Golan Heights.

[Photo: Syriahro / YouTube]