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Peacekeeping

Armed group detains UN Golan Heights peacekeepers

A group of around 20 peacekeepers has been kidnapped by armed fighters in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria, the Golan Heights. Meanwhile, the number of Syrian refugees reached one million.

UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey told reporters on Wednesday that the force charged with preserving peace on the Golan Heights had reported 20 of its troops had been seized.

Del Buey said the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) had "reported that earlier today approximately 30 armed fighters stopped and detained about 20 peacekeepers within the area of limitation."

The deputy spokesman said the troops had been on "a regular supply mission" and that they had been detained close to an observation post that had been damaged in heavy fighting during the weekend.

"The mission is dispatching a team to assess the situation and attempt a resolution," the spokesman said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights distributed two amateur videos, both carrying statements from the Syrian rebel Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade that claimed the capture. The peacekeepers were Filipinos, according to the Observatory, and the rebels are demanding that regime forces withdraw from a village called Jamla.

'New and dangerous phenomenom'

Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin has warned that "a very new and dangerous phenomenon" of armed groups operating within the Golan Heights" represented a threat to peace in the region.

Syrian rebels say with better equipment they can end the war within a month

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war and Syrian troops are not allowed to operate there under a 1974 peace treaty that UNDOF has the task of enforcing.

In December, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused the Syrian government of serious violations of the 1974 separation agreement and cited clashes between security forces and opposition fighters in the disengagement zone. He also called on Israel, as well as Syria, to stop firing across the ceasefire line.

Refugee numbers hits one million

On Wednesday, a 19-year-old Syrian woman became the one-millionth refugee to register with the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR. The mother of two told reporters in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli that she wanted to return to Syria.

"The situation is very bad for us. We can't find work," the woman said. Initial reports did not provide her name.

The UNHCR estimates that over half of the refugees who have fled into neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon are children.

Aid groups have struggled in recent months to accommodate the waves of displaced persons who cross the border every day amid food and fuel shortages. The UNHCR repeated its warning of a immense regional crisis if the refugee number was not curtailed quickly.

"We are doing everything we can to help, but the international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched," said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres.

"Syria is spiraling toward full-scale disaster."

kms, rc/hc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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