Syrian rebels today freed 21 UN peacekeepers after holding them hostage for four days, ending a sudden entanglement with the world body that earned those trying to oust President Bashar Assad a flood of negative publicity. The Filipino peacekeepers, part of a force that has spent four decades monitoring an Israeli-Syrian cease-fire without incident, safely crossed from Syria to Jordan this afternoon. The peacekeepers were seized Wednesday and were held in the village of Jamlah in southwestern Syria, near Jordan and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
Their captors from the Martyrs of the Yarmouk Brigades initially said they would only release the hostages once Syrian troops withdrew from the area. However, as the abduction made headlines, the rebels eventually dropped their demand and began negotiating a safe passage for the peacekeepers with UN officials. Many rebel groups operate independently, despite efforts by the Syrian opposition to unify the fighters under one command. The abduction appeared to have been such a local initiative, and leaders of the political opposition repeatedly urged the Jamlah rebels to free the hostages.