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Syrian rebels seize 20 peacekeepers in Golan Heights, demand tougher stand on Assad

JERUSALEM — About 30 armed Syrian rebels on Wednesday detained 20 U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, demanding that the United Nations and the United States do more to force Syrian President Bashar Assad to withdraw his troops from a nearby village in return for their release.

"If no withdrawal is made within 24 hours, we will treat them as prisoners," said a video posted online by a group that identified itself as the Martyrs of Yarmouk.

The video showed U.N. vehicles and an armored patrol car. At least two U.N. officials wearing blue helmets and flak jackets could be seen in the background.

It was the second incident this week in which rebel forces deliberately sought to internationalize their fight to topple Assad. On Monday, gunmen thought to be either members of the rebel Nusra Front or the related group al-Qaida in Iraq, attacked an Iraqi military convoy deep inside Iraq as it was escorting a group of unarmed Syrian civilians and soldiers. As many as 50 Syrians and a dozen Iraqi soldiers were killed.

Wednesday's incident involved 20 Filipino soldiers who were part of a U.N. observer force that patrols the no-man's land between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in 1967.

In the video, the rebels said they would hold the U.N. workers until the Syrian army withdrew from the village of Jamiah, a mile from the Syria-Israel border. The rebels accused the U.N. of collaborating with Assad's forces.

Refugees top 1M

The number of Syrians who have fled their war-ravaged country and are seeking assistance has now topped the 1 million mark, the U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday, warning that Syria is heading toward a "full-scale disaster."

Associated Press

Syrian rebels seize 20 peacekeepers in Golan Heights, demand tougher stand on Assad 03/06/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 11:03pm]
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