The UN Security Council has called for the immediate release of 21 peacekeepers who have been kidnapped in the Golan Heights. The rebels who carried out the kidnapping have said the peacekeepers won’t be harmed.
Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, issued a statement on Wednesday from the UN headquarters in New York.
"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," he said.
According to UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey, a group of 30 armed fighters stopped and detained the peacekeepers, who are all from the Philippines. They are part of the UN's Disengagement Force (UNDOF), monitoring a 1974 peace treaty between Israel and Syria. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 “Six-Day War” and Syrian troops are not allowed to operate there under the treaty.
Hostages appear to be safe
The Philippines also demanded the release of the hostages.
"The Philippine government strongly condemns the illegal detention of 21 Filipino peacekeepers under the United Nations command in the Golan Heights," the country's foreign secretary, Albert del Rosario, said in a statement.
A spokesman for the foreign ministry said the 21 troops were being treated well, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that the kidnappers did not intend to harm their captives.
A Syrian rebel group, the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade (pictured above), has claimed the capture. They are demanding that Syrian regime forces withdraw from the area.
Refugee numbers hit one million
The conflict between Syrian government forces and rebel groups has caused a mass exodus of refugees. On Wednesday, a 19-year-old woman became the one-millionth Syrian 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 an 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 UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres.
"Syria is spiraling toward full-scale disaster."
mz,kms/slk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)