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UN: About 20 Golan Heights peacekeepers captured by Syrian rebels

A group claiming to be Syrian rebels said they took the hostages and will detain them until Syrian president Assad's forces withdraw from their town. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

Syrian rebels are holding hostage a convoy of United Nations peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, and have vowed to detain them until President Bashar Assad withdraws his forces from a Syrian village that has suffered heavy fighting.

The U.N. on Wednesday confirmed that about 20 of its peacekeepers were being held by about 30 armed fighters in the Golan Heights, where the forces are charged with monitoring a cease-fire line between Syria and Israel. The capture, first announced in a rebel video posted on the Internet, was condemned by the U.N. Security Council, which demanded their immediate release.


The U.N. observers were on a regular supply mission Wednesday when they were stopped near an observation post which sustained damage and was evacuated last weekend following heavy combat, according to U.N. deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey. He said the U.N. peacekeeping mission has dispatched a team to assess the situation and attempt a resolution.

"In the name of god most gracious most merciful, the leadership of the Yarmouk Brigades announces it is detaining forces belonging to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force until the withdrawal of forces of the regime of Bashar al-Assad from the outskirts of the village of Jamla,'' said a young man in a video posted on line.

Baz Ratner / Reuters

India's United Nations peacekeepers salute as a U.N. vehicle crosses from Syria into Israel at the Kuneitra border crossing on the Golan Heights March 5, 2013.

The man is surrounded by others young men with assault rifles in front of two white armored vehicles and a truck with UN markings. In the vehicles were at least five people wearing light blue UN helmets.

"We call on them to withdraw back to their positions and if they don't withdraw within 24 hours, then they will be treated as prisoners," the man said, according to a translation of the video by NBC News.

NBC News cannot confirm the authenticity of the videos.

He goes on to say that the UN forces are lying about their activities.

"The United Nations is helping the forces of the regime to enter the village of Jambla and they are professing that they are 'disengaging' in the Golan... These are the helpers of the regime entering Jambla."

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A look back at the conflict that has overtaken the country.

The seizure was the first overt threat to U.N. personnel since the start of the nearly two-year-old uprising against Assad. It came as the Arab League okayed its member states to arm the rebels and as Britain said it would increase aid to the opposition forces.

Last week, in a policy shift, the United States promised $60 million in non-lethal aid to the opposition, but Washington maintained it would not provide weapons out of concerns that these arms would fall into the hands of extremist groups among the rebel forces.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission has been in place for nearly four decades, monitoring a ceasefire line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, captured by Israel in a 1967 war.

NBC News correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.