On Monday, one day after six Red Cross workers were kidnapped in northwestern Syria, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that three of the six Red Cross Members, along with a Syrian Red Crescent volunteer were “released safe and sound” in Syria. While it is known that the four aid workers were released in Idlib province, near the Turkish border, the circumstances under which they were released have not been made public. The humanitarian organization added that it was waiting on information relating to the three remaining workers. While Syrian state television blamed, what it called, armed terrorists, which is a term that has been frequently used to describe anti-government rebels, It remains unclear who is responsible for the kidnappings however hardline Islamist rebels are known to operate in the area and may be responsible for this latest incident.
The news of the release of the four hostages comes at a time when Syrian rebels have been urged to agree to a local ceasefire in order to allow access to international inspectors, who are working to locate and destroy the government’s chemical weapons arsenal.
On Sunday, gunmen abducted six Red Cross workers along with a local volunteer of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent near Saraqeb, in Idlib province, in northwestern Syria. The team had been on their way back to Damascus after delivering medical supplies in Sarmin and Idlib. The news of the kidnapping was confirmed by officials at the ICRC. ICRC spokesman Ewan Watson stated that “we are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of this team which was delivering humanitarian assistance to those in need – and we do that on both sides of the front lines.” The humanitarian agency also indicated that it had no contact with the unidentified gunmen but it was appealing for the seven to be freed immediately. The nationalities and gender of the ICRC staff has not been revealed however it is believed that the group includes both local and international staff in which most are thought to be medical specialists.
Syrian state media had reported the kidnapping earlier that day, stating that gunmen had kidnapped the Red Cross workers after they opened fire on their vehicles. Quoting an unnamed official, state news agency SANA indicated that the workers were travelling in the Idlib area when gunmen blocked their path, shot at the convoy, seized them and took them to an undisclosed location. Although the ICRC spokesman was not able to confirm whether or not shots had been fired during the kidnapping, the ICRC has indicated that the team’s vehicles were missing.
Kidnappings, especially of aid workers and journalists, have become increasingly common in northern Syria. In August of this year, the ICRC indicated that the number of Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers who had lost their lives since the start of the conflict had risen to twenty-two. Although the rebels have captured a number of regions in the north, government forces continue to have some degree of control over the many urban centers that are located in the region. This has resulted in fighting which typically occurs on a daily basis. The conflict, which has been ongoing for two-and-a-half years, has claimed more than 100,000 lives and has driven more than 2.1 million citizens out of the country.