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Three U.N. observers released unharmed between Syria and Israel

May 17, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • A United Nations Disengagement Observer Force vehicle drives out of the UNDOF camp on the Israeli side of the border between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria.
A United Nations Disengagement Observer Force vehicle drives out of the… (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images )

BEIRUT -- Three United Nations observers posted in the buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights were seized by armed anti-government forces and held for five hours this week before being released unharmed, the U.N. said.

It marked the third time this year that U.N. personnel along the Golan Heights had been abducted, highlighting how the Syrian conflict has been destabilizing the region. All so far have been released unharmed.

The U.N. Security Council on Thursday “strongly condemned” the latest kidnapping, which it blamed on “anti-government armed elements” who detained the three observers and “looted” a U.N. observation post a day earlier.

Also this month, five peacekeepers were seized and held for five days before being released at the Israeli border. In March, 21 peacekeepers were carjacked and detained for three days.

In the two earlier cases, a rebel group, the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, took responsibility for the abductions.

The attackers this week broke into a U.N. observation post early Wednesday and seized the three observers, Josephine Guerrero, a U.N. peacekeeping spokeswoman in New York, said via email. The three later returned safely to the same post where they had been taken, the spokeswoman said.

The three observers in the latest incident were from New Zealand, Finland and Nepal, the U.N. said. The earlier abductions involved  peacekeepers from the Philippines.

The U.N. has helped maintain the peace along the Syrian-Israeli cease-fire line in the Golan Heights since 1974. The area had been largely quiet for decades until the Syrian civil war erupted, resulting in shelling and fierce clashes between Syrian insurgents and government troops.

Because of the heightened threat, the U.N. says it has cut back on some patrols and otherwise modified its procedures in the volatile  area. The U.N. has about 1,100 peacekeepers and civilian personnel in the zone.

The abductions have raised fears that some participating nations may withdraw their forces. Philippine authorities have said they are considering removing their personnel in the Golan because of the heightened threat.

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patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

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