Four UN peacekeepers held in Golan Heights | News | DW | 07.05.2013
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Four UN peacekeepers held in Golan Heights

Four UN peacekeepers have been detained on the Golan Heights, an area which has witnessed spillover from Syria's conflict. Meanwhile, Syria was top of the agenda during the US Secretary of State's first visit to Russia.

An armed group captured the group of Filipino peacekeepers as they were patrolling on the Golan Heights, a ceasefire zone between Syria and Israel, UN spokeswoman Josephine Guerrero said Tuesday.

"An unknown armed group" seized the men near the Al Jamlah locality in the Israeli-occupied zone, Guerrero said. "Efforts are under way to secure their release."

The identity of the group remains unconfirmed although Syrian rebels known as the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade claimed to be holding the peacekeepers. In a statement on its Facebook page, the group said it had detained the UN workers for their safety and was not holding them hostage.

The rebels said they "carried out an operation to secure and protect elements of the United Nations operating in the Yarmouk Valley ... during clashes and heavy shelling in the region."

It is the second time in two months that unarmed UN peacekeepers have been seized on the tense ceasefire line. In March 21 military observers, also from the Philippines, were detained for three days by Syrian rebels.

The peacekeepers are from a mission known as the UN Disengagement Observer Force, which has monitored the Golan Heights since 1974. It was set up seven years following Israel's capture of the area and a year after the country pushed back Syrian troops attempting to reclaim it.

The region has seen increased hostilities in recent months, with Syrian shells repeatedly overshooting their target and crossing the border.

In a report in March, UN leader Ban Ki-moon said there had also been "continued, often intense, clashes between the Syrian armed forces and armed members of the opposition" in the ceasefire zone.

ccp/mkg (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)