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Philippines expects Syria hostage handover

9 March AFP

The Philippines still expects its 21 UN peacekeepers held hostage in the Golan Heights to be freed despite shelling by Syrian forces that scuttled a handover, a military spokesman said yesterday

A UN convoy that entered the Syrian village of Jamla to pick up the Filipinos abducted by rebels pulled out when the Syrian army shelled the area, according to a human rights watchdog.

Philippine Army spokesman Colonel Randolph Cabangbang said in Manila that the shelling had since stopped and the UN negotiators had resumed planning another arrangement with the rebels for the hostage handover.

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

"The planned venue of the handover was not actually shelled. It was the route that they planned to take." The negotiators from the UN Disengage ment Observer Force had no reason to believe that any of the hostages, who were abducted on Wednesday, were harmed by the shelling, Cabangbang added.

He said the force believed the rebels remained committed to freeing the hostages.

However, Cabangbang he said he had no details on the new arrangement.

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