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Terrorism & Security

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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The peacekeepers are part of the UN mission that has patrolled a narrow zone separating Israeli and Syrian forces since 1974. The unarmed troops do not provide aid or other support to locals in the region, though Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog notes that they have on occasion provided medical treatment to both rebels and government soldiers.

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Europe Editor

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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Though the incident appears to now be headed towards a peaceful conclusion, it highlights the chaos that the Syrian conflict is causing among its neighbors. Earlier this week, some four-dozen Syrian army troops were killed by Islamist militants inside Iraq, where the soldiers had fled after fighting rebel forces. And the UN announced that the conflict had driven 1 million Syrians out of their country, primarily into Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon – the last of which is currently building a string of fortified watchtowers along its porous border with Syria. Lebanon has become a de facto extension of the Syrian battlefield, as rebels hiding in Lebanon frequently exchange fire with Assad loyalists on the other side.

The Israeli-Syrian border has been comparatively peaceful, though Agence France-Presse reports that the Israeli government expressed concern that the peacekeepers' capture may cause the UN to rethink its mission in the Golan Heights.

"This kidnapping is likely to convince countries who participate in this force to bring their troops home, which would undoubtedly create a dangerous vacuum in no-man's land on the Golan," an Israeli official said.

The top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily said Israeli officials feared that "Al-Qaeda members will take control of the buffer zone."

But the Israeli government added today that it would not get involved in the hostage situation, and that "The United Nations ... can be trusted to persuade them [the rebels] ultimately to free them," according to Amos Gilad, a senior Defense Ministry official.

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