Syrian rebels on Wednesday abducted 21 UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights ceasefire zone, the United Nations said, as the frontiers of their war against President Bashar al-Assad spread further.
The UN said it is trying to negotiate the release of the soldiers, who are from the Philippines, according to diplomats. But a rebel spokesman said the troops would be held until Assad's forces pull back from a Golan village.
About 30 armed fighters stopped a UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) convoy in the ceasefire zone, UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey told reporters. UNDOF has been monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and Israel since 1974.
"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 added.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said 21 peacekeepers were seized. In a statement, he called for their "immediate" release and demanded that the Syrian government and rebels respect "UNDOF's freedom of movement and security." There has been fierce fighting recently around Jamlah village, which is held by opposition forces.
A UN Security Council statement said "armed elements of the Syrian opposition" had abducted the peacekeepers, with the council demanding an "unconditional and immediate" release. "Negotiations are going on and the matter is mobilizing all our teams," UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said.AFP