Syria: 7 Red Cross workers captured by gunmen in Syria

BEIRUT (AP) - Gunmen abducted a team of seven workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross after stopping their convoy early Sunday in northern Syria, a spokesman said, in the latest high-profile kidnapping in the country's civil war.

Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the ICRC in Damascus, said the abduction took place near the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province around 11:30 a.m. local time (0830 GMT) as the team was returning to Damascus with armed guards. Six of the kidnapped are ICRC staff workers and one is a volunteer from the Syrian Red Crescent, he said.

Schorno declined to provide the nationalities of the six ICRC employees, and said it was not clear who was behind the attack.

Syria's state news agency, quoting an anonymous official, said the gunmen opened fire on the ICRC team's four vehicles before seizing the Red Cross workers. The news agency blamed "terrorists," a term the government uses to refer to those opposed to President Bashar Assad.

Schorno said the team of seven had been in the field since Oct. 10 to assess the medical situation in the area and to look at how to provide medical aid. He said the part of northern Syria where they were seized "by definition is a difficult area to go in."

Much of the countryside in Idlib province, as well as the rest of northern Syria, has fallen over the past year into the hands of rebels, many of them Islamic extremists, and kidnappings have become rife, particularly of aid workers and foreign journalists.

Press freedom advocate Reporters without Borders calls Syria "the most dangerous country in the world" for journalists, with 25 reporters killed and at least 33 imprisoned since the anti-Assad uprising began in March 2011.

The conflict also has taken a toll on the aid community. The ICRC said in August that 22 Syrian Red Crescent volunteers have been killed in the country since the conflict began. Some were deliberately targeted, while others killed in crossfire, the group said.

Syria's bloody conflict has killed more than 100,000 people, forced more than 2 million Syrians to flee the country and caused untold suffering -- psychological, emotional and physical -- across the nation.

Outside Damascus, hundreds of civilians, some carried on stretchers, fled the besieged rebel-held suburb of Moadamiyeh on Saturday and Sunday following a temporary cease-fire in the area, activists and officials said.

It was not immediately clear who brokered the halt in fighting between rebels and government forces, but the temporary truce marked a rare case of coordination between the opposing sides in Syria's civil war.

"It's (been) an area of military operations for months, so to see this halt of fire, and to see this exodus of people, means there's a high level cooperation -- not regular cooperation," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Neither Syrian officials nor activists close to rebels would discuss the coordination.

Syria's state news agency SANA said Saturday that 2,000 women and children left the suburb for temporary housing in the nearby suburb of Qudsaya.

An official with the Syrian Red Crescent, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said another 1,000 people were evacuated Sunday. Those figures could not be independently verified.

For the thousands of people trapped in Moadamiyeh, the humanitarian situation has been deteriorating for months. In a bid to squeeze rebels there, Syrian forces blocked food and supplies from entering the district on the western edge of Damascus.

The suburb's residents have been hit hard. Activists from the Moadamiyeh Media Center reported six people died of starvation in September: two women and four children. One woman described how her 18-month-old daughter lost half her weight as she struggled to nourish her on boiled lentil water.

It's not clear how many people still live in the area. A Moadamiyeh Media Center activist who only identified himself as Mahmoud out of security concerns estimated some 12,000 people likely remain.

Also Sunday, Islamic extremists blew up a shrine of a mystic Muslim saint, Issa Abdul-Qader al-Rafai, in the northern town of Busaira, the Observatory said. A shrine belonging to the mystic's brother was destroyed in September.

Islamic extremists, who form some of the most powerful armed factions in the rebel ranks, also have burnt churches, smashed statues, and desecrated shrines belonging to Islam's minority Muslim sects, and those belonging to mystic Sufi branches of Islam.

Print this article Back to Top

Comments

or Subscribe now so you can share your opinion! It’s only a penny for a month trial.

Latest Forecast
More World News
Ukraine workers find more bodies at crash site
Ukraine workers find more bodies at crash site

Rescuers retrieved more bodies Monday in the sprawling fields of east Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed, killing all 298…

Palestinian death toll in Gaza reaches 508
Palestinian death toll in Gaza reaches 508

The U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state headed to Cairo on Monday to try to end two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting that has killed at…

Scores dead in first major ground battle in Gaza
Scores dead in first major ground battle in Gaza

The first major ground battle in two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting exacted a steep price Sunday: It killed 65 Palestinians and 13 Israeli…

McIlroy earns 3rd major with British Open win
McIlroy earns 3rd major with British Open win

Rory McIlroy had to work a little harder, sweat a little more. No matter. Just like his other two majors, this British Open was…

Rebels to give MH17 black boxes to officials
Rebels to give MH17 black boxes to officials

Rebels have recovered the black boxes from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and will hand them over to the International Civil Aviation…

Monitors try to secure Ukraine plane crash site
Monitors try to secure Ukraine plane crash site

International monitors moved gingerly Saturday through fields reeking of the decomposing corpses that fell from a Malaysian airliner shot…

Ukraine says Russia destroying crash evidence
Ukraine says Russia destroying crash evidence

Ukraine accused Russia on Saturday of helping separatist rebels destroy evidence at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane shot down in…

IU alum killed in Malaysia Airlines crash
IU alum killed in Malaysia Airlines crash

A former Indiana college student was reportedly on board the Boeing 777 that was shot down and crashed Thursday in Ukraine.

Official: Bodies found at Malaysian plane site
Official: Bodies found at Malaysian plane site

Emergency workers, police officers and even off-duty coal miners - dressed in overalls and covered in soot - spread out across sunflower…

Ukraine: Pro-Russia rebels downed Malaysian plan
Ukraine: Pro-Russia rebels downed Malaysian plan

Ukraine accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting down a Malaysian jetliner with 298 people aboard Thursday, sharply escalating the crisis…