Syrian rebels seize 20 peacekeepers in Golan Heights, demand UN take tougher stand on Assad

 

McClatchy Newspapers

Syrian rebels on Wednesday took 20 United Nations peacekeepers hostage in the Golan Heights, demanding that the U.N. and the United States do more to force Syrian President Bashar Assad to withdraw his troops from a village in the area in return for the hostages’ release.

“If no withdrawal is made within 24 hours we will treat them as prisoners,” a video posted online by a group that identified itself as the Martyrs of Yarmouk said. The video showed U.N vehicles and an armored patrol car. At least two U.N. officials wearing blue helmets and flak jackets could be seen in the background.

It was the second incident this week in which rebel forces deliberately sought to internationalize their fight to topple Assad. On Monday, gunmen believed to be either members of the rebel Nusra Front or the related group al Qaida in Iraq attacked an Iraqi military convoy deep inside Iraq as it was escorting a group of unarmed Syrian civilians and soldiers.

As many as 50 Syrians and a dozen Iraqi soldiers were killed in the attack, which Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on Tuesday called a massacre.

Wednesday’s hostage taking involved 20 Filipino soldiers who were part of a U.N. observer force that patrols the no-man’s land between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in 1967.

“The U.N. 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,” the U.N. said in a statement.

In the video, the rebels said they would hold the U.N. workers until the Syrian army withdrew from the village of Jamiah, just a mile away from the Syria-Israel border.

The rebels accused the U.N. of collaborating with Assad’s forces.

More then 1,000 U.N. peacekeepers patrol the narrow corridor between Israel and Syria. Earlier this month, Croatia withdrew its troops from the force, expressing concern that they might be targeted after news coverage linked Croatia to a weapons shipment bound for the rebels.

Israeli officials have in recent weeks said they were worried that rebel groups operating in southern Lebanon might stage cross-border attacks into Israel.

“Of the rebel groups fighting in Syria, we have, at least in the last three to four months, seen more of the type of groups we would characterize as hard line,” an Israeli official told reporters in a briefing last month. “These are groups that concern us because they would possibly not have a problem attacking Israel or its allies in the future.”

Under the conditions of the briefing, the official could not be further identified.

Earlier this week, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, warned that the situation along the border with Syria was becoming increasingly hostile.

“So far, Israel has shown maximum restraint,” Prosor wrote U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “You must act as soon as possible before the situation deteriorates. . . . Israel will not stand by while its citizens’ lives are at risk from reckless behavior in Syria.”

Militant Islamist groups, particularly the Nusra Front, which the United States said in December is an alias for al Qaida in Iraq, have assumed an increasingly prominent role in recent rebel military advances.

Little is known about the Martyrs of Yarmouk group, but the name recalls a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood in Damascus that has been the scene of fierce fighting. Residents of Yarmouk have told McClatchy that Nusra was leading the anti-Assad forces in that combat.

Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent. Email: sfrenkel@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @sheeraf

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
A pro-Russian rebel looks up while ridding on a tank flying Russia's flag, on a road east of Donetsk, Monday, July 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

    U.S., Ukraine say Russian shipments of heavy war equipment to separatists grow

    Three Ukrainian border guard brigades were said to be close to eating grass to survive, running out of ammunition and food, trapped on the eastern edge of their country between Russian separatists to their west and fire coming in from Russia to their east.

  •  
In this July 2014 photo provided by The Citizens Foundation 17-year-old Haris Suleman is greeted by students from the Citizens Foundation school in Lahore, Pakistan, during his around-the-world flight. The body of the Plainfield, Indiana, teen was recovered after his single-engine plane crashed Tuesday, July 22, 2014 shortly after taking off from Pago Pago in American Samoa. Crews were still searching for his father, 58-year-old Babar Suleman, who was flying with him.

    Witness: Teen's plane didn't show obvious distress

    A man who saw a plane flown by an Indiana teen who was killed during an around-the-world flight attempt says the aircraft was flying low but didn't show any obvious signs of distress before diving into the ocean off American Samoa.

  • Islamic State presses Syria offensive, targets two key government garrisons

    A week after seizing a major oilfield in an offensive that left 270 Syrian government soldiers dead, the extremist Islamic State on Thursday targeted two more key government garrisons, posting photos on the Internet of headless bodies the group claims had been soldiers killed in the attacks.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category