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UN Demands Unconditional Release of Golan Peacekeepers

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.
The U.N. Security Council is demanding the unconditional release of more than 20 peacekeepers stopped and detained by armed elements of the Syrian opposition in the Golan Heights.

The United Nations says a group of peacekeepers from its Disengagement Observer Force, known as UNDOF, in the area of separation between Israel and Syria, was seized by a group of some 30 armed fighters Wednesday.

A U.N. spokesman said the unarmed peacekeepers were on a regular supply mission when they were stopped near an observation post which had sustained damage and was evacuated a few days ago, following heavy fighting in the nearby town of Al Jamlah.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who holds the rotating presidency of the 15-nation Security Council this month, read a statement to reporters condemning the detention of the U.N. observers and demanding their release.

“The members of the Security Council demanded the unconditional and immediate release of all the detained U.N. peacekeepers and called upon all parties to cooperate with UNDOF in good faith to enable it to operate freely and to ensure full security of its personnel,” he said.

Ambassador Churkin said his understanding of the situation is that no fighting took place between the U.N. observers and their captors, but that the armed men took over the UNDOF vehicles.

U.N. Peacekeeping Chief Hervé Ladsous told reporters that it is a “very serious incident” which is “ongoing” and has mobilized all of the U.N.’s teams. Without going into detail, he said negotiations are going on.

He said the incident occurred in the very south of UNDOF’s area of operations.

The United Nations has not said what nationalities the peacekeepers are, but troops from Austria, Croatia, India and the Philippines are part of the observer force.

There are just over 1,000 U.N. troops in the Golan Heights, where the U.N. has monitored a cease-fire between Israel and Syria since 1974.