Monday, March 11, 2013

Syria Brief: UN Peacekeeper Hostages

On Saturday, and after three days of detention by factional elements of the Syrian opposition called the Martyrs of Yarmouk, twenty-one UN peacekeepers were released into Jordan just six miles from their captivity in Jamla. UN Secretary General and other officials have demanded the release of the filipino peacekeepers, who serve in the broader UN Disengagement and Observer Force (UNDOF). UNDOF serves as the peacekeeping mission to monitor a demilitarized zone along the Golan Heights, which Israel acquired from Syria following the 1967 war. While the militants claim that the peacekeepers were "guests" and that they were just escorting the blue helmets to safety from an area under attack from government forces, the Martyrs of Yarmouk and their seemingly random capture and transport of UN peacekeepers have raised serious concerns about the radical elements within the Syrian opposition and whether or not they can be reigned in by the opposition. 

Chief of Staff greets the 21 peacekeepers in Amman after 
safely crossing the Jordan border. Jordan Pix via Getty Images.

This is not the first time that the international community has expressed skepticism toward the Syrian opposition. Despite forming a coalition and it's reassurances to powers like the United States that it would (and could) discourage radical factions associated with the al Qaeda terrorist network, the opposition faces war crimes allegations and now criticism that it's failing to reign in radical elements. While both radical and 'moderate' blocs of the Syrian opposition face a new level of scrutiny,  President Obama has praised the Gulf States' efforts to arm them . To date, the United States (CIA) has only gone so far as to train opposition forces at secret training facilities in Jordan and to funnel them non-lethal assistance packages. The recent hostage situation involving twenty-one peacekeepers underlines the difficulty in discerning which rebels associate with al Qaeda and questions whether international efforts to aid the rebels actually strengthened the more radical factions of the opposition.

Whether there will be repercussions for the hostage 'mixup' remains to be seen. Many analysts see the hostage situation as a symptom of Syria's broader deterioration and as stoking tensions with its neighbors. The conflict has already spilled into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, eastern Turkey and even Iraq, agitating a delicate regional stability. Without the Syrian opposition's reassurances coming to fruition, and as the war spreads more and more refugees and violence to neighboring states, we can only expect regional relations to erode. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, and if the world resigns to waiting it out as it has, we will not know stability in the region for decades to come.

1 comment:

  1. Great article! One thing that's interesting is that no one seems to know who these gibronis are, not even the opposition spokespeople. From the reports of "strange Arabic accents" and the name (Yarmouk is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, right outside of Damascus), this sounds like it might actually be a Palestinian splinter group that has nothing to do with the "opposition" as it were.