Syrian rebels: UN peacekeepers captured in Golan are our 'guests' (+video)
A hostage situation that began when Syrian rebels captured UN peacekeepers working in the Golan Heights yesterday seems to be rapidly deescalating as the captors scale back their threats.
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Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor. He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog. He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.
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Talks are underway to free 21 UN peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights yesterday, after the rebel group appeared to roll back its initial demands and instead declared the Filipino peacekeepers to be "guests" that they rescued.
The Philippine government said today that the troops, part of the UN's observer mission to Golan Heights to monitor the Syrian-Israeli border, were in good health and were being treated as "visitors and guests" by their captors, according to the Associated Press.
The peacekeepers' capture became public after a video was posted on the Facebook page of the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, a relatively unknown group of Syrian rebels. Monitor reports that in the video, a fighter, standing in front of a UN-marked vehicle, demanded that "America and the UN Security Council" comply with the group's demands to ensure the peacekeepers' release.
"We demand from the US, the UN and the Security Council the complete withdrawal of the troops of Bashar al-Assad to release those captives… If no withdrawal is made within 24 hours we will treat them as prisoners," said a young man who identified himself as Abu Kayed al-Fahel, standing beside white-painted UN vehicles and speaking to the camera. He accused the UN troops of collaborating with Assad's forces to push the rebels out of Jamla.
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“With God’s help we managed to secure a group of UN members working in the border town of Jamleh after they were victims of the criminal shelling of Assad’s gangs,” the statement said. “We request from the United Nations to send us a security convoy so that we can deliver them to the organization.”
“We have nothing to do with any of the old statements before this one,” added the posting on the brigade’s Facebook page.