News / Middle East

Red Cross: 7 Aid Workers Kidnapped in Northern Syria

VOA News
The International Committee of the Red Cross says gunmen in northern Syria have kidnapped six Red Cross aid workers and a member of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The ICRC said the kidnapping happened near the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province late Sunday morning, as the seven aid workers were driving back to Damascus in several vehicles. It said the group had been on a medical assistance mission in Idlib.

The Syrian state news agency SANA said gunmen opened fire on the convoy before seizing the aid workers. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The ICRC did not disclose the nationalities of the six Red Cross workers. It called for the immediate release of all seven hostages.

Kidnappings have become increasingly common in northern Syria, where rebels fighting the Syrian government have captured large areas.

In another development, Syrian state media said two suicide car bombers blew up their vehicles in central Damascus late Sunday. The state news agency SANA said the blasts happened in Umayyad Square and caused minor damage to the state television building. It did not immediately report any casualties.

Elsewhere, Syrian Arab Red Crescent workers helped to evacuate hundreds of civilians from a rebel-held western suburb of Damascus, as residents took advantage of a lull in fighting to flee.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have besieged the Moadamiyeh district for months. Syrian rights activists accuse those forces of cutting off food supplies and causing people to starve to death.

The evacuation from Moadamiyeh began Saturday and continued on Sunday. Red Crescent head of operations Khaled Erksoussi told the French news agency that his group brought 1,500 people to shelters, mostly women and children whom he described as fatigued and scared.

SANA said state authorities helped the Red Crescent to evacuate 2,000 civilians from the suburb. It said the residents had been "held hostage by terrorists" - the government's term for rebels trying to oust President Assad.

It was not clear if the lull in fighting in Moadamiyeh was the result of a cease-fire between government and rebel forces. Such truces have been rare in Syria's two-year civil war.

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