Syrian Rebels Seize 20 U.N. Soldiers in the Golan Heights NY Times, March 6, 2013
Syria’s civil war entangled the United Nations peacekeeping operation in the disputed Golan Heights between Syria and Israel for the first time on Wednesday, when 30 insurgent fighters seized a group of 20 armed peacekeepers investigating a damaged observation post and threatened to treat them as enemy prisoners if Syrian forces remained in the area.
As the war has worsened, the Golan region has been periodically disrupted by armed clashes and occasional artillery or mortar bombardments that have become a source of concern to Israel. But United Nations officials said that members of the Golan peacekeeping mission, officially known as the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, had never before been seized by any of the combatants in the conflict.
Josephine Guerrero, a spokeswoman for the Departments of Peacekeeping and Field Support at the United Nations, which oversees the Golan operation, said the peacekeepers were detained near an observation post that had been evacuated this past weekend after what she called “heavy combat in proximity” near the village of Al Jamlah, in the southern part of the operation’s region of control. She said that the mission was “dispatching a team to assess the situation and attempt a resolution,” and that the Syrian authorities had been asked to help.
Ms. Guerrero said she had no further information on the insurgents involved or the nationalities of the detainees. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in Britain with a network of contacts inside Syria, said they were Filipino.
A video uploaded on YouTube by a group that identified itself as the Martyrs of Yarmouk claimed responsibility and said the peacekeepers would be held until Syrian government forces had withdrawn from the area around Al Jamlah. The video does not show any of the captives, but United Nations vehicles are visible. A speaker in the video warns in Arabic: “If the withdrawal does not take place within 24 hours, we will deal with those guys like war prisoners. And praise to God.”
The threat to the peacekeepers underscored the widening risks that the Syria conflict is destabilizing its borders. On Monday, more than 40 Syrian soldiers who had sought temporary safety in Iraq were killed in an ambush as the Iraqi military was transporting them back to the Syrian border.