The Free Syrian Army issued a statement on the reported kidnapping of UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, saying that the rebels “secured” the Filipino troops to prevent their harm.
“The peacekeepers are being held in brigade headquarters until conditions become amenable to their safe release and they can be escorted from the area without harm,” FSA chief-of-staff General Salim Idriss said in a Thursday statement.
According to the statement, the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade of the Free Syrian Army “secured… [the peacekeepers] near the village of Jamla in the Golan Heights region” by taking them from the battlefield.
“[Bashar al-] Assad forces are currently attacking the area putting the lives of the UN peacekeepers at serious risk,” the statement added.
Idriss also called on regime forces to “immediately halt their attack and pull back to ensure the safety and release of the UN personnel.”
“If Assad forces continue their assault, we call upon the international community to take immediate military action in order to suppress Assad’s forces and provide an opportunity for the Brigade to deliver the peacekeepers to safety,” he added.
“As the Chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Council, I regret any misunderstanding that has resulted from the withholding of United Nations personnel, and commend the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade for taking every effort at this stage to ensure their safety, release, and immediate return.”
However, FSA spokesperson Louay AlMokdad said, “We are not responsible in any way for the observers’ kidnapping, nor are we in contact with the abducting party which is not affiliated with the [FSA’s] staff.”
“The FSA’s General Staff held an emergency meeting yesterday in order to contact the kidnapping party, and condemned this act as well as every abduction that affects the UN’s observers whose purpose is to serve the Syrian people,” he added in comments published Friday in Saudi As-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper.
“We denounce the observers’ abduction which should be punished, and we vow to protect the observers in conflict zones. We [also] call on the Syrian regime not to shell border towns where the UN’s observers are deployed.”
The soldiers, Filipino members of the UNDOF peacekeeping force, were taken hostage on Wednesday by gunmen who said they would be held until troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pulled back from Jamla village in the southern province of Daraa.
Since 1974, the UN's Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has been monitoring the Syrian side of the armistice line with a force of 1,200 troops, although its number has recently dropped to 1,000.
Syria remains formally at war with Israel, which captured part of the Golan during the 1967 Six Day War and annexed it in 1981, a move not recognised by the international community.
Israel fears that the departure of UNDOF troops could leave a vacuum in the ceasefire zone between Syria and the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights, leaving it open to infiltration by hardline militant groups.