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Syrian rebels abduct UN observers in Golan Heights

Special to WorldTribune.com

NICOSIA — After months of warning, Sunni rebels have taken hostage
United Nations personnel in Syria.

The United Nations has confirmed that at least 21 members of its
peace-keeping and monitoring force in Syria were captured by rebels. The
captives were identified as members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force,
deployed on the Golan Heights and which came under constant rebel fire
in 2013.

Soldiers of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), stand on an observation tower overlooking Syria and located on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights.  /Reuters

Soldiers of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) stand on an observation tower overlooking Syria and located on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. /Reuters

“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 Jamla,” the UN said on March 6.

This marked the first time that UN personnel on the Golan were taken
hostage. Western diplomatic sources said contingents of UNDOF had raised the prospect of a rebel attack or abduction as early as mid-2012.

UNDOF, which monitors the 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria,
contains about 1,000 personnel from such countries as Austria, Croatia,
India and the Philippines. Sunni rebels said they abducted UNDOF
personnel to force the Syrian Army out of the Golan village of Jamla, the
latest target in the counter-insurgency campaign by President Bashar Assad.

“The command of the Martyrs of Yarmouk is holding forces of the United
Nations Disengagement Observer Force until the withdrawal of forces of the
regime of Bashar Assad from the outskirts of the village of Jamla,” a rebel
video statement on March 6 said. “If no withdrawal is made within 24 hours,
we will treat them as prisoners.”

The rebel video showed people in UN helmets and body armor. The
statement said UNDOF was helping Assad in the military attack on Jamla.

“My understanding is that they took over the trucks in which the UNDOF
personnel was moving around,” Russian envoy to the Security Council, Vitaly
Churkin, said. “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.”

UN spokesperson Eduardo del Buey said 30 suspected rebels detained the
peace-keepers. He said UNDOF would dispatch a team to the Golan to “assess
the situation and attempt a resolution.”

The UN maintains a presence throughout Syria, particularly in the
Palestinian refugee camps. The UN refugee agency said about 1 million
Syrians, half of children fled their homes during the revolt, which began
two years ago.

“With a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally,
and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is
spiraling towards full-scale disaster,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Antonio Guterres said.

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