News / Middle East

    UN Peacekeepers Seized in Syria's Golan Heights

    An image taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on March 6, 2013 allegedly shows armed fighters standing in front of a United Nations Disengagement Force (UNDOF) vehicle in the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel. (AFP/YouTube)
    An image taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on March 6, 2013 allegedly shows armed fighters standing in front of a United Nations Disengagement Force (UNDOF) vehicle in the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel. (AFP/YouTube)
    VOA News
    United Nations peacekeepers have been detained by armed men in Syria, near the disengagement zone with Israel.

    A U.N. spokesman said a group of about 20 peacekeepers was seized in the Golan Heights. He said the peacekeepers had been taking supplies to a U.N. observation post when they were stopped by a group of about 30 armed fighters.

    The U.N. is sending a team to investigate. Reuter news agency has reported that videos posted to YouTube show Syrian rebels with the U.N. supply convoy.

    The seizure of the peacekeepers comes on the same day that the head of the rebels' military council pleaded with the international community to supply the Free Syrian Army with more weapons.

    General Salim Idriss told a news conference in Brussels, Belgium "the [Assad] regime is using very heavy weapons. Long distance artillery, surface-to-surface missiles, Scud missiles."

    General Salim Idriss, head of the Free Syrian Army Supreme Military Council said, "We in the Free Syrian Army need, and it is very clearly to say, we need weapons and ammunition to stop [the] killing, to defend ourselves and to defend, to defend our citizens."

    Some Western countries have been hesitant to provide the rebels with weapons for fear they might fall into the hands of extremists and groups linked to al-Qaida. But Britain said Wednesday it would increase aid to Syrian opposition forces and even provide armored vehicles.

    British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, "In our view if a political solution to the crisis in Syria is not found and the conflict continues, we and the rest of the European Union will have to be ready to move further and we should not rule out any option for saving lives."

    The Arab League Wednesday issued a statement saying member states are free to provide military aid to forces fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The league has until now put an emphasis on humanitarian aid.

    Earlier Wednesday, the United Nations said the number of refugees from Syria's two-year conflict has reached one million, while millions more people are displaced inside Syria.

    The U.N. refugee agency chief, Antonio Guterres, said that Syria is "spiraling towards full-scale disaster."

    Most of the refugees have gone to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, where those governments are straining to meet their needs.  

    UNHCR spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes said many arrive with no possessions, and that the number is increasing far faster than expected.

    “We have seen an unrelenting flow of Syrian refugees - pretty much since the middle of last year," she said. "But, since the beginning of this year, we have had an average of 7,000 Syrian refugees crossing the border every single day. They have come at double the rate we anticipated. In December, we put out a plan for $1 billion where we anticipated that over one million would arrive by the end of June. They have now have arrived at the beginning of March."

    The U.N. refugee agency said it has received only a quarter of the funds it needs for humanitarian operations.

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