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The World This Week - 22 August 2014

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Middle east

Taking UN troops ‘counter-productive’ for Syrian rebels

© AFP

Video by Luke SHRAGO

Text by Charlotte BOITIAUX

Latest update : 2013-03-08

A group claiming to be part of the Syrian anti-regime rebellion is holding 21 UN peacekeepers taken from the Golan Heights near Israel on Wednesday. But at least one regional analyst believes Damascus may have ordered their detention.

The detention of 21 UN peacekeepers on the Golan Heights bordering Syria and Israel on Wednesday by an armed group claiming to be part of the mosaic of rebel units operating in Syria was an unprecedented move.

UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said the Philippine nationals, part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof), were stopped near an observation post in the disputed territory.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the kidnappers, calling themselves the “Martyrs of Yarmouk”, said they would continue to detain the 21 men until government forces withdrew from the village of Jamla near the Israeli border.

They also accused the UN of supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime.

‘Counter-productive’

Kidnapping UN peacekeepers makes little sense for the rebel movement, according to Antoine Basbous, head of the Paris-based Observatory of Arab Countries.

“These kinds of arrests are a factor in all conflicts and revolutions,” he told FRANCE 24. “Very often, kidnappings like these are a means for raising cash to buy weapons, or because soldiers facing a stalemate want to get results more quickly.”

“But in this case, detaining UN troops is totally counter-productive for the rebel cause,” he added.

“Accusing the UN of helping Assad is one thing. Actually kidnapping UN peacekeepers is something else entirely. And this group will know perfectly well that the UN does not pay ransoms for hostages, and that they can’t put the peacekeepers' lives in danger without risking the most serious of consequences.”

Basbous did not dismiss the possibility that the Damascus regime could be behind the kidnapping, which has been condemned by the Free Syrian Army, the main fighting group opposed to the Damascus regime.

‘Significant and consequential’

“This group attacked UN observers, people who are there to maintain peace in the region,” Basbous said. “It’s a significant and consequential act.”

He also hinted that it was something that could turn out to be of huge advantage to the Damascus regime, and so in its interests to have orchestrated the kidnapping: “The regime could benefit from such an act to change opinions in the international community, painting the rebels as enemies of the UN.”

Basbous added that it was important to see the arrest of the UN peacekeepers in the context of their role on the Golan Heights, a disputed territory that has been policed by the UN for the last four decades.

“Maybe Assad is trying to send a message to the international community: that if his regime falls, the jihadists will immediately turn their fire on Israel.”

Date created : 2013-03-07

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