UK & World News

  • 7 March 2013, 1:48

Syrian Rebels Hold UN Peacekeepers In Golan

Around 20 United Nations peacekeepers have been detained by an armed Syrian rebel brigade in the Golan Heights.

Syrian activists said the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) peacekeepers were from the Philippines, although the UN did not give the troops' nationalities.

The UN Security Council has demanded their immediate release and the UN's peacekeeping chief, Herve Ladsous, said negotiations were being held with the abductors.

In a rebel video uploaded to YouTube, a young man saying he was from the 'Martyrs of Yarmouk' brigade stood surrounded by several rebel fighters with assault rifles in front of two white armoured vehicles and a truck with UN markings.

The man, identified as Abu Kaid al Faleh, a spokesman for the brigade, said the peacekeepers would not be freed until Syrian regime forces pull out from the area.

"We call on the US and the United Nations and the Security Council ... we call on them to get Assad forces out in order to release these forces," he said.

"We will not release them until after the Assad forces have withdrawn from the border village of Jamla back to their positions, and if they do not withdraw back within 24 hours, we will deal with these forces as prisoners."

The peacekeepers were detained shortly after British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced the UK would be providing military aid, including armoured vehicles, to Syrian opposition groups.

Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, who is president of the Security Council in March, said the captors had not clashed with the peacekeepers.

"My understanding is that they took over the trucks in which the UNDOF personnel was moving around," he said after a closed doors briefing.

UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey told reporters the UN force were stopped by approximately 30 armed fighters.

"The UN observers were on a regular supply mission and were stopped near observation post 58, which had sustained damage and was evacuated this past weekend following heavy combat in close proximity, at Al Jamlah," he said.

"The mission is dispatching a team to assess the situation and attempt a resolution."

The UN has reported a growing number of incidents in the Golan, where it has deployed peacekeepers since 1974 observing a truce accord between Syria and Israel.

Mr Churkin said the capture of the peacekeepers was "particularly unacceptable and bizarre (because) UNDOF are unarmed and they have nothing to do with the situation in Syria".

"They are there on a completely different mission so there is no reason at all under any circumstances, any kind of sick imagination to try to harm those people," he said.

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