Syrian rebels say they have seized four UN peacekeepers in Golan Heights, for their own “safety”.

The four peacekeepers, soldiers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force’s Philippine battalion, were captured by “an unidentified armed group while they were patrolling” in the restive zone between Syria and Israel, UN peacekeeping spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero said. Efforts to secure their release are underway, she added.

The Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade said they had taken the four peacekeepers for their own safety amid renewed fighting between the Syrian government and opposition forces in the area, and posted a photograph of the four men in blue flak jackets with the UN sign on Facebook, reports AFP.

The rebel group said shelling by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops and clashes in the area “seriously threatened the safety” of the peacekeepers and had prompted them to “intervene and work to get them out”.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon strongly condemned the attack, following the abduction of 21 Filipino peacekeepers in March.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban “calls for their immediate release” and “calls on all parties to respect UNDOF’s freedom of movement and safety and security”.