UN peackeepers seized by Syrian rebels 'head for freedom'

DAMASCUS (AFP) - Filipino United Nations peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels on the Golan were being taken on Saturday to the border with Jordan where they will be freed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said.

"The peacekeepers have been transferred from the (Golan) village of Jamla, where they were held, towards the Yarmuk valley on the frontier with Jordan ahead of their release," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

He was unable to say when the 21 soldiers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) would be freed, or whether they would be handed over to the Jordanian authorities, the UN or the Red Cross.

On Friday, citing the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade which captured them, he said a deal had been reached between the Syrian regime and the UN for a truce between 0800 and 1000 GMT on Saturday to allow the Red Cross to evacuate the men.

It was the first abduction of its kind since the conflict erupted in Syria nearly two years ago.

In Manila, a military spokesman said shelling late on Friday, which had prevented the captives being handed over, had stopped.

"After the shelling the two parties (UN and the rebels) resumed coordinating the arrangements for their release," Colonel Randolph Cabangbang told AFP.

"The planned venue of the handover was not actually shelled. It was the route that they planned to take."

On Wednesday, the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade said it captured the Filipinos and would hold them until President Bashar al-Assad's troops withdrew from the Jamla area, east of the ceasefire line with Israel.