Skip to main content

Rebel leader: Red Cross can pick up 21 U.N. peacekeepers

By Pete Burn and Michael Martinez, CNN
March 8, 2013 -- Updated 1055 GMT (1855 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "There was a U.N. convoy at risk" in an area being bombed, rebel leader tells CNN
  • NEW: U.N. commander would have to decide on withdrawing peacekeepers
  • Opposition President Moaz al-Khatib says Red Cross should also rescue injured civilians
  • Peacekeepers were taken Wednesday from area near the Golan Heights; U.N. demands their release

(CNN) -- Twenty-one U.N. peacekeepers being held by rebels in Syria were taken from an area near the Golan Heights for their own safety due to fighting there, Syrian opposition coalition President Moaz al-Khatib said Thursday.

Al-Khatib told CNN's Christiane Amanpour he wants the Red Cross to pick them up.

READ: Opposition leader wants Red Cross to pick up U.N. staff

"There was a U.N. convoy at risk" in an area under bombardment for seven days when the rebels took the peacekeepers Wednesday, al-Khatib said.

The rebels are "ready to release them on the condition that the Red Cross come and receive them from the border," al-Khatib said. Injured civilians, including women and children, should also be rescued by the Red Cross, he added.

Syria opposition: U.N. peacekeepers safe
One million Syrians now refugees

The 21 peacekeepers are Filipino, the Philippine government said earlier Thursday.

"The apprehension and illegal detention of the Filipino peacekeepers are gross violations of international law," Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement.

The peacekeepers are reportedly unharmed, and negotiations are under way to secure their safe release, the Philippine government said. The Department of Foreign Affairs said it is coordinating efforts with the United Nations' peacekeeping agency.

A spokesman with the U.N. peacekeeping department said the agency was still waiting Thursday for the release of its forces. The mission has spoken with the peacekeepers over the phone and confirmed they are unharmed, the spokesman said.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters Thursday that decisions on withdrawing peacekeepers from the Golan Heights rest with the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force.

"The security conditions on the ground are not easy and we have said so in recent days," Nesirky said. "It's for the commander of UNDOF to be able to assess the security situation with regard to the mission and patrols they carry out."

A video posted on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights' YouTube website shows six of the peacekeepers sitting in a room. CNN couldn't immediately verify the authenticity of the video.

In it, one peacekeeper gives a statement to the camera:

"We are here safe in this place. We are here because while we are passing through position (unintelligible) to Jamlah, there were bombing and artillery fires. This is why we stopped and, civilian people tell us, for our safety, and distributed us in different places to keep us safe. And they give us good accommodation and give us food to eat and water to drink."

The rebels have said the peacekeepers entered a Syrian village near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, an area where peacekeepers should not be and where intense fighting has been raging for days between rebels and government forces.

The rebels said they suspected the peacekeepers were trying to aid their enemy -- the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The United Nations said the peacekeepers were on a "regular supply mission."

Two other videos that rebels posted on YouTube present the rebels' point of view.

In one, a rebel insists that the peacekeepers will be held until al-Assad's forces withdraw from the village of al-Jamlah.

The other video shows rebels walking near several U.N. trucks. "This U.N. force entered Jamlah village to assist the regime ... and (the U.N. is) claiming that they are here just to stop the clashing," a rebel says.

Members of the U.N. Security Council condemned the detention of the peacekeepers.

An Israeli official said Israel, which controls the Golan Heights, would not intervene in the situation.

"It's happening in Syria. We are following it very closely," the official said." We can't and won't interfere in the events on the other side of the border. We have offered UNDOF (the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force) any kind of assistance they might require and we hope this ends quickly with no harm to anyone."

Earlier this week, al-Khatib posted on the rebels' Facebook page a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the leaders of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the League of Arab States.

"What is happening (is a) genocide for the Syrian people with the world watching and listening (and) will lead to the gravest consequences," he wrote.

"The blood of the people of Syria will be a curse on the whole world if there" is "no effective action," it said.

There has been "hardly a Syrian village spared from the regime bombing," the letter said.

"This might be the last message to you," it warns. "I call on you all to bear your international responsibilities before God and the people."

CNN's Richard Roth and Hamdi Alkhshali contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2117 GMT (0517 HKT)
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1019 GMT (1819 HKT)
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
May 31, 2014 -- Updated 0141 GMT (0941 HKT)
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT