BEIRUT / GENEVA: Gunmen abducted six Red Cross aid workers and a local volunteer of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in northwest Syria on Sunday.
The humanitarian agency had no contact with the unidentified armed kidnappers, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson Ewan Watson said, declining to reveal the identity, nationalities or gender of the six ICRC staff for now.
“We call for the immediate and unconditional release of the seven colleagues abducted this morning,” Magne Barth, head of ICRC’s delegation in Syria, said in a statement. The team had gone to Idlib province on Thursday to assess its medical situation and to deliver medical supplies to Sarmin and Idlib city, the provincial capital.
The convoy was clearly marked with the ICRC emblem when stopped near Sareqeb on the way back to Damascus, the statement added.
Syrian state media reported the incident earlier in the day, saying the gunmen had kidnapped the Red Cross workers after opening fire on their vehicles on Sunday. Quoting an unnamed official, state news agency SANA said the workers were travelling in the Idlib area when gunmen blocked their path, shot at their convoy, seized them and took them to an unknown location.
Watson was not able to confirm that shots had been fired, but said the team’s vehicles were also missing.
Kidnappings have become increasingly common in northern Syria, where rebels have captured swathes of territory but government forces have clung on to many urban centres and fighting continues daily.