Gunmen abducted six Red Cross workers and a Syrian Red Crescent volunteer after stopping their convoy early Sunday in northwestern Syria, a spokesman said, in the latest high-profile kidnapping in the country’s civil war.
Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus, said the assailants snatched the seven aid workers from their convoy near the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province about 11:30 a.m. local time as the team was returning to Damascus. He 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 Thursday 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,” and the team was traveling with armed guards.
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 after 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.
In Damascus, a double car bombing Sunday targeted the state TV building in central Umayyad Square, Syria’s official news agency said. The blast caused minor damage to the building, the agency said.
State TV said several pedestrians were wounded in the attack, but there was no further immediate word on casualties.
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.