Caisar Habib, 29, is an independent citizen journalist from Daraa province. He says the four UNDOF soldiers who were captured on Tuesday are being held in the town of Jamla, part of the Golan Heights’ demilitarized zone. Habib says many well-funded and well-armed Islamist militias are now there that encourage the FSA to support an Islamic emirate in exchange for financial and arms support. UN Security Council President Kodjo Menan issued a statement Wednesday condemning the detention and demanded the soldiers’ unconditional and immediate release. Speaking to reporters in New York, a UN official added that peacekeepers have been moved to different positions in the disengagement area separating Syrian and Israeli forces.
In this first-person account, Habib gives Ahmed Kwider an exclusive look into why the UN soldiers were taken, and what is being demanded for their return.
One of the Filipino kidnappers was abducted last time, too, so this is his second time. The media is reporting that Shohadaa al-Yarmouk Brigade [Yarmouk Brigade Martyrs] is responsible for kidnapping them, but the truth is that it is an Islamist group with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. They are originally Palestinians, from Palestinian [refugee] camps in Daraa. The group is headed by a man called Abo Omar, and he’s subordinate to a leader of higher rank whose name is Abo Obaida.
The group has material and abstract demands. The abstract part is that they want UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to “apologize for saying [the peacekeepers] are abducted, because they’re guests.” That was what they told me. As for the material demands, they are studying that and trying to work that out through a mediator, the Syrian ambassador to Qatar [Nizar al-Haraki, member of Coalition] an Indian general, and a Filipino captain at the UN. These negotiations started on day one of the kidnapping.
The mediator [Nizar al-Haraki] was chosen by the Islamist group at least in part because he’s a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The hostages are now in bordering Jamla, and their conditions are excellent. They have food, water and a room with an open door and windows. The Islamist group is certain they can’t flee. The house where they’re staying is the group’s headquarters where they make their meetings, so it’s surrounded by fighters.
The hostages are going through very hard and tiring mental circumstances because they want to be set free as soon as possible. In addition, they see strict Islamic members now this time, which is the opposite of what happened with them last time when the FSA captured them. That was what I saw and heard when I was there two days ago.
What makes me involved is that I’m a journalist and I have the freedom to move around. In addition, I acted as a mediator in the first kidnap operation of 21 Filipino soldiers 75 days ago. Last night, I got a Skype call from Captain Michael [serving in UNDOF force] again, there was an Egyptian translator next to him to help us communicate. He was asking me about how the soldiers are doing and how they are being treated. I told him they are okay but they wish to be set free soon. I hope that too, actually.