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Capture of UN peacekeepers may have long-term consequences

A UN peacekeeper from the Philippines drives leaves the Ziouani camp to cross into Syria at the Quneitra crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights on Friday, March 8. The Philippine government said Syrian rebels failed to release 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers on Friday and stuck to their demands for repositioning of Syrian government forces before any handover.

Ariel Schalit/Associated Press

The kidnapping of 21 Filipino peacekeepers close to the Syrian Golan Heights is instructive for two reasons.

It demonstrates the government of President Bashar al-Assad is now losing control of territory along Syria's most sensitive border – the one it shares with Israel.

It also points out that the disparate groups of rebel brigades and fighters hoping to overthrow the Assad regime are no angels -- if the idea even existed -- and will go to any lengths to get what they want.

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In an interview with Christiane Amanpour aired on CNN Thursday, Syrian opposition leader Moaz AlKhateeb did himself no favours when saying of the kidnapping: "There was a UN convoy at risk" and that the rebels are "ready to release them on the condition that the Red Cross come and receive them from the border."

Not exactly, according to a video posted on YouTube Wednesday. In it, a young man purportedly from the rebel group, the Martyrs of Yarmouk Brigades, appears before a number of UN vehicles alongside several armed men demanding that Syrian government forces pull out of the town of Jamleh within 24 hours. The 24-hour time period has long since passed.

Since then another video clip has appeared on the Internet showing five Filipino peacekeepers speaking to a camera, claiming they are safe and that the Free Syrian Army is treating them well.

The town of Jamleh, where rebels have been fighting government forces, is located in Syria's Quneitra province only several kilometres from the Occupied Golan Heights region. A UN peacekeeping force has been stationed there since 1974.

A Canadian working for the UN went missing in the same area late last month and remains unaccounted for.

These latest kidnappings highlight just how dangerous Syria has become. Two separate UN and Arab League observer missions deployed in late 2011 and last year tried – and failed – to restore peace between rebels and regime forces, and monitors were frequently subjected to serious violent attacks during their failed missions.

But looking ahead, at some point in the future – if or when the Assad regime falls, a peacekeeping force of some shape may be deployed in Syria to perhaps protect the country's Alawite community from revenge attacks. Syria's Alawites have largely backed the Assad government and many among the ranks of the regime's militias and armed forces are drawn from this sect.

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The question is: If Assad falls and revenge is sought on the Alawites, will world capitals have the stomach to send in their own men and women to keep the peace?

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About the Author

Stephen Starr lived in Syria for five years until February 2012 and covered the revolt as a freelance journalist. He is the author of' Revolt in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising'. More


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