20 UN peacekeepers detained in Golan Heights by member of ‘Martyrs of Yarmouk’ saying hostages would not be released until Assad’s forces withdraw from Golan village of Jamla
The United Nations said about 20 peacekeepers had been detained by around 30 armed fighters in the Golan Heights on the border between Syria and Israel on Wednesday and that it has sent a team to resolve the situation.
The UN’s Security Council demanded their immediate and unconditional release.
The United Nations confirmation came in response to YouTube videos purporting to show Syrian rebels with the seized convoy. It also followed the February 25 announcement that a member of the peacekeeping force, known as UNDOF, is missing.
Syria’s two-year civil war, which has killed more than 70,000 people, has been spilling over into the Golan Heights area.
“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,” the United Nations said in a statement issued in New York.
A video posted online showed a man named Abu Qaed al-Faleh from the “Martyrs of Yarmouk” brigade who said the convoy would not be released until forces loyal to President Bashar Assad withdrew from the village of Al Jamlah, a mile east of the ceasefire line in the Golan Heights.
Surrounded by several rebel fighters with assault rifles, al-Faleh stood in front of a two white armored vehicles and a truck with “UN” written on them. At least five people seen sitting in the vehicles were wearing United Nations light blue helmets and bullet-proof vests.
“The command of the Martyrs of Yarmouk announced that it is holding forces of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force until the withdrawal of forces of the regime of (President) Bashar Assad from the outskirts of the village of Jamla,” said the man, wearing civilian clothes.
“If no withdrawal is made within 24 hours we will treat them as prisoners,” he said, accusing them of collaborating with Assad’s forces to push the rebels out of Jamla. UNDOF supervises a 1974 ceasefire agreement between Syria and Israel.
The video, circulated by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the peacekeepers being held by the rebels are 20 Filipinos.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the current Security Council president, said talks are under way between UN officials from the peacekeeping force and the captors.
“There was no fighting, according to his briefing to us,” Churkin said. “My understanding is that they took over the trucks in which the UNDOF personnel was moving around.”
Churkin said the capture of the peacekeepers “is 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.
Churkin urged countries with influence on the Syrian opposition to use it to help free the peacekeepers.
There has been no change in IDF troop deployment along the Syrian border as of yet.
Army officials have expressed concerns in the past year relating to the extremely dangerous nature of the Hauran area, some 3 kilometers from IDF posts. Rebels in the area are affiliated with Global Jihad and al-Qaeda who might be planning an infiltration into Israel.
AP, Reuters and Yoav Zitun contributed to this report.
View original Ynet publication at: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4353321,00.html