UN says Syrian opposition abducted peacekeepers

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The UN Security Council on Wednesday demanded that Syrian rebel fighters release more than 20 UN peacekeepers abducted in the Golan Heights ceasefire zone.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said that negotiations were being held with the abductors. According to diplomats, the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) peacekeepers are from the Philippines.

The Security Council "strongly condemned the detention of a group of more than 20 peacekeepers," said a statement read by the 15-nation body read to reporters by Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin. The statement added that the abduction was carried out "by armed elements of the Syrian opposition."

"The members of the Security Council demanded the unconditional and immediate release of all the detained UN peacekeepers and called upon all parties to cooperate with UNDOF in good faith to enable it to operate freely and to ensure full security of its personnel," added the statement.

The United Nations has set up a crisis cell to handle the emergency, diplomats said.

"Negotiations are going on and the matter is mobilizing all our teams," UN peacekeeping chief Ladsous said after briefing the Security Council on the abduction. "It is a very serious incident." Syrian opposition fighters are also believed to be holding an UNDOF staffer who was announced missing on Feb 25. The staffer is also believed to be a Filipino.

Churkin said that the rebels have made demands but did not give details.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights distributed two statements by the rebel Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade claiming to hold the peacekeepers.

In one, a man identified as Abu Kaid al-Faleh, a spokesman for the brigade, said the peacekeepers would not be freed until Syrian regime forces pull out from the area.

"We call on them to withdraw all their troops to their bases. If they do not withdraw, these men (UN troops) will be treated as prisoners," he said.

In a second video, the same rebel accused the UNDOF of working with the Syrian army to try to suppress the insurgency and help regime forces enter the area.

"The Syrian regime, the UN and the European countries are all collaborators with Israel," he said.

"They all want the Free Syrian Army to leave this land. They want us to leave our land and they want the oppressor Bashar al-Assad to enter because they are collaborators with the Zionists, Israel and America," the spokesman said.

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