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Middle east

Video shows UN workers held by Syrian rebels

© AFP

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2013-03-08

A Syrian rebel group has released video footage of some of the 21 UN peacekeepers taken captive Wednesday near the Israeli-Syrian border. The men, all Philippine nationals, say they are being treated well.

New videos were released late Thursday of UN peacekeepers being held captive by an armed Syrian group, with a rebel spokesman saying they would not be freed until regime troops withdrew from the area.

The peacekeepers are part of a UN mission that has been patrolling a ceasefire line between Israel and Syria without incident for nearly four decades.

A rebel group calling itself the Martyrs of the Yarmouk Brigades seized the 21 Philippine nationals Wednesday at the Syrian village of Jamlah near the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

The UN force was on a resupply mission when their four-vehicle convoy was held up by the rebels.

The men in the videos said they were being held by the Free Syrian Army and treated well, but could not be released “because the government of [President Bashar] Assad will not stop the bombing”.

“To our family, we hope to see you soon and we are OK here,” said one peacekeeper, shown in uniform and wearing a blue bulletproof vest emblazoned with “UN” and “Philippines”.

Human shields

Negotiations are under way to get the hostages released, while a rebel spokesman hinted to the AP news agency that the men were being used as human shields against bombing raids by the Damascus regime.

If the UN soldiers were released, the regime could kill “as many as 1,000 people”, the spokesman said.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the rebels were demanding that the regime withdraw from the area, end shelling attacks and allow refugees to return.

The UN mission, known as UNDOF, was created in 1974. Since then it has been successfully enforcing a truce between Israel and Syria in the disputed Golan Heights.

The force has an office in Damascus and staffs observation posts along the armistice line. The peacekeepers shuttle between Damascus and the outposts to deliver supplies and rotate crews.

 

Date created : 2013-03-08

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