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March 3, 2021

Rebels free 21 U.N. peacekeepers

Twenty-one U.N. peacekeepers detained by Syrian rebels this week have been handed over to Jordanian authorities at the border with Syria, the Free Syrian Army told CNN Saturday, CNN reports. Jordanian officials confirmed the release and added their government had no coordination nor agreement in the handover, said spokesman Samih Maaytah. Official protocol was followed, he added. The 21 peacekeepers were turned over at the Syrian-Jordanian border at Yarmouk valley on Saturday, Free Syrian Army chief of staff General Salim Idris told CNN. Rebels had detained the peacekeepers, identified by the Philippine government as Filipino, in a Syrian village near the Golan Heights. On Sunday, the rebels have staged a surprise attack against the key district of Baba Amr in the city of Homs, a year after regime forces retook it after a deadly month-long siege, activists have said, Al Jazzera reports. The assault came as rebels in the oil-producing east of the war-ravaged country said they had established local religious committees to administer the area, including policing, the judiciary and emergency services.“At dawn, the rebels launched a surprise attack on Baba Amr, which they have entered,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman, who was in contact with the rebels. The assault on a key hub of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s government also comes two years after the outbreak of peaceful protests against his rule descended into armed conflict, when the regime responded with a brutal crackdown. Government forces pounded Baba Amr relentlessly for more than a month in 2012, seeking to oust rebels holed up in Homs. Assad’s troops eventually retook the district on March 1 last year after a bloody campaign. The president himself last toured the battered neighbourhood on March 27, assuring residents who had stayed that it would be rebuilt and that normal life would resume.In the east of the country, where large swaths of territory are now under rebel control, groups including the al-Nusra Front have set up a religious council to administer affairs, the observatory said on Sunday. The council will include several offices charged with functions including justice, policing and emergency services, it said.

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