MOSCOW, March 7 (RIA Novosti) – Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov has condemned the seizure of UN peacekeepers by Syrian militants in the Golan Heights ceasefire zone, calling it “the height of cynicism.”
“No-one has ever backed such actions. Obviously, the militants are not averse to any methods,” Gatilov said in his Twitter account.
The United Nations confirmed 21 peacekeepers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were captured on Wednesday by a group of 30 Syrian rebels in the disputed Golan Heights region between Syria and Israel.
A member of a rebel group calling itself the Martyrs of Yarmouk Brigade said in a video message posted on YouTube that the hostages will be released only when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces withdraw from the village of Al Jamla, the scene of intense fighting between rebels and government forces.
The United Nations has “demanded the unconditional and immediate release of all detained UN peacekeepers and called upon all parties to cooperate with UNDOF in good faith to enable it to operate freely and ensure full security of its personnel,” Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said on Wednesday.
UN spokesperson Eduardo del Buey said the mission “is dispatching a team to assess the situation and attempt a resolution.”
Talks between UN officials from the peacekeeping force and the captors are already under way, Churkin said.
The UN-monitored buffer zone in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights was set up to separate Israeli and Syrian forces after the Arab-Israeli war of 1973. Although it is de jure on Syrian territory, it has been occupied and annexed by Israel since the war. Ownership of the strategically important Golan Heights remains one of the main points of contention between the two nations.