UN chief hails peacekeepers' release



United Nations: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the release of peacekeepers who were seized last week in the disputed Golan Heights.

Twenty-one UN peacekeepers from the buffer zone between Israel and Syria, all of them Filipino nationals, were taken hostage Wednesday by armed elements of the Syrian opposition, the Martyrs of Yarmouk rebel brigade.

On Saturday, they were taken to the Jordanian border and freed.

The peacekeepers are part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which monitors the 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war.

Ban "appreciates the efforts of all concerned to secure their safe release", according to a statement by the UN chief's spokesperson Saturday.

The UN-monitored buffer zone in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights was set up to separate Israeli and Syrian forces after the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

Although it is de jure on Syrian territory, it has been occupied and annexed by Israel since the war.

Ownership of the strategically important Golan Heights remains one of the main points of contention between the two nations.

IANS