Gunmen have abducted seven International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Red Crescent staff in Idlib Province, one of the main theaters of Syria’s brutal war, the ICRC said.
It came as two suicide car bombings blasted Damascus, and as the ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) evacuated thousands of people from a suburb of the capital that the army has besieged for months.
Meanwhile, a key opposition group said it would not attend any Geneva peace talks, a setback for a US-Russian proposal aimed at ending the 31-month conflict that has killed more than 115,000 people.
The aid workers — six Red Cross staff and a SARC volunteer — were “abducted this morning by unidentified armed men near Sareqeb,” an ICRC statement said.
“We call for the immediate and unconditional release of the seven colleagues,” said Magne Barth, head of the ICRC’s Syria delegation.
The statement did not give the nationality of those abducted and there has been no claim of responsibility.
The Red Cross said the team had traveled to Idlib on Thursday to assess the situation at health facilities and deliver aid.
“The convoy, which was on its way back to Damascus, was clearly marked with the ICRC emblem, which is not a religious symbol,” it said.
Kidnapping has become an increasing problem in Syria, with journalists and aid workers frequently targeted in rebel-held parts of the country, largely in the north.
In other violence on Sunday, two cars laden with explosives and driven by suicide bombers blew up near the state broadcaster’s headquarters at night in central Damascus, state media said.
A reporter for government television made no mention of any casualties, saying only that “there were some human remains at the scene, likely those of a suicide bomber.”
On the political front, the Syrian National Council ruled out attending any Geneva peace talks and said it would quit the umbrella opposition Syrian National Coalition if it participated.
“The Syrian National Council ... has taken the firm decision ... not to go to Geneva under the present circumstances [on the ground],” said its chief, George Sabra.
“This means that we will not stay in the Coalition if it goes” to the talks, he said.
Meanwhile, the UN on Sunday named Sigrid Kaag to lead the UN’s joint mission with the chemical weapons watchdog tasked with eliminating Syria’s arsenal, diplomats said.
The UN Security Council, which is set to vote on Kaag’s nomination tomorrow, has formally approved a first joint mission with the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
In other developments, a car bomb killed at least 20 people yesterday in the northern Syrian town of Darkoush, close to the Turkish border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It said dozens of people were wounded by the explosion in the market of Darkoush, a small rebel-controlled town 2km from the frontier, and some of them were taken into Turkey for treatment.
The British-based Observatory said 12 of the dead were identified by name and another eight badly charred bodies had been found.
Additional reporting by Reuters