Red Cross confirms kidnapping of 7 aid workers in Syria

GENEVA (AFP) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Sunday that six of its aid workers and a member of the Syrian Red Crescent had been kidnapped by gunmen in Syria.

"Six ICRC staff members and one member of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been abducted in Idlib in north-western Syria," ICRC spokesman Ewan Watson told AFP at the organisation's Geneva base.

"We don't know who took them. It was unidentified armed men," he added, when pressed on whether the kidnappers were thought to be from Syria's rebel side or militias loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

"We're calling for their immediate, unconditional and safe release," he said.

Earlier on Sunday, Syrian state television reported that "armed terrorist gangs" attacked the ICRC convoy and kidnapped its members.

The neutral humanitarian organisation, which specialises in helping victims of war, strives not to be drawn into the politics of conflict zones where its staff serve.

"We're going to activate all networks in an effort to find out what happened and bring them back safely," Mr Watson said.

ICRC and Red Crescent staff in Idlib and the city of Aleppo were scrambling to locate and secure the release of the kidnapped aid workers.

"We work on both sides of the front lines, trying to deliver aid. This type of incident unfortunately can undermine our capacity to reach those in need," said Mr Watson.

He explained that the aid workers were abducted after setting off back to the Syrian capital Damascus, having been in Idlib province to deliver health supplies to hospitals in two cities and to carry out an assessment of health needs in the area.

Large parts of the province are under the control of rebel groups, including jihadists, who are fighting to oust Assad's regime. The conflict has killed more than 115,000 people in two and a half years.

Mr Watson said that he could not immediately confirm the names and nationalities of the kidnapped ICRC staff, in part because the humanitarian organisation wanted to be sure their families were informed first.

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