Syrian rebels hold UN peacekeepers for safety
DOMINIC EVANS AND LOUIS CHARBONNEAU
Syrian rebels said today they were holding four Filipino UN peacekeepers on the ceasefire line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights after clashes in the area had put them in danger.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the detention and called for the peacekeepers' immediate release. They were detained as they patrolled close to an area where 21 Filipino observers were held for three days in March.
The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade made the announcement on its Facebook page, in a statement accompanied by a picture of four peacekeepers wearing light-blue UN flak jackets marked "Philippines".
The same group was responsible for the March incident and initial reports described it as hostage-taking, which the rebel unit denied.
"The brigade does not want this issue blown out of proportion like the last incident," said Abu Iyas al-Hourani, a rebel from the group who spoke to Reuters on Skype.
"They (the peacekeepers) are safe and sound and will be handed over as soon as possible. But as happened last time, they were in an area where very heavy clashes took place in the Ghadeer al-Bustan area."
Syria's two-year uprising has increasingly seeped into sensitive frontiers, threatening to draw other countries closer to a conflict that has already killed more than 70,000 people in Syria.
UN spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero said the peacekeepers were taken at Position 86, near the southern end of the narrow "area of separation" between Syrian and Israeli forces.
Al-Hourani said his group feared it would be blamed for the deaths of members of UN forces if any were killed during fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels.