Syrian rebels captured a convey of United Nations peacekeepers in the Golan Heights area between Syria and Israel today. The UN has confirmed that approximately 20 of its peacekeepers are being held hostage.
The rebels announced their attack via a video posted online. They are holding the peacekeepers hostage until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad withdraws forces from a Syrian village suffering from heavy conflict.
The peacekeepers were captured when they stopped near an observation post that had previously been heavily damaged and evacuated. They were then overcome by around 30 armed fighters.
The UN Security Council condemned the rebels’ actions and have called for the immediate release of the peacekeepers.
This hostage situation marks the first overt threat to UN peacekeepers since Syria’s civil war began. Peacekeepers have patrolled the Golan Heights for nearly 40 years, monitoring the ceasefire line between Syria and Israel.
Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since capturing the area in the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The international community rejects Israel’s claims to the land and regards it as Syrian territory. Regardless, Israel continues to build settlements and exercises Israeli law in the region.
The seizure follows a week of significant gains won by Syrian rebels. Rebels captured a provincial capital and nested control of most of Raqqa from the Syrian army. A council was elected to run civilian affairs in Aleppo, a city still partially under President Assad’s control. Arab League began permitting member states to supply Syrian rebels with arms, and both the US and Britain announced they would increase aid to opposition forces.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]