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7 Red Cross aid workers abducted in Syria

| Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 6:36 p.m.

Gunmen attacked a humanitarian convoy in northern Syria on Sunday and abducted seven people working with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the aid group said.

The seven included six staffers of the International Committee of the Red Cross and a volunteer from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. The nationalities of the Red Cross personnel were not made public.

The kidnappings occurred near the city of Sareqeb in Idlib province, where several anti-government armed factions control broad stretches of territory.

The official Syrian news agency reported that “an armed terrorist group” — the government's term for rebels — opened fire on the Red Cross convoy. It was not clear whether anyone was injured in the attack.

The aid team had traveled to Idlib province on Thursday “to assess the medical situation in several ... health structures and to deliver medical supplies” to the cities of Sarmin and Idlib, the Red Cross said. Such a trip would appear to require crossing of government and rebel lines, usually manned by checkpoints.

The attack occurred as the convoy was on its way back to Damascus, the capital, the Red Cross said. The vehicles were clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, “which is not a religious symbol,” the aid group said.

Magne Barth, who heads the Red Cross contingent in Syria, issued a statement calling for “the immediate and unconditional release of the seven colleagues abducted this morning.”

Sunday's attack underscored the dangers to aid workers and others inside Syria.

Among those kidnapped in northern Syria in recent months have been a number of foreign journalists and two Christian bishops: Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim. The fate of the two bishops, who were seized near Aleppo in April, remains publicly unknown.

The Syrian civil war has turned into a humanitarian catastrophe. Heavy fighting and bombardment has reduced some entire towns to rubble. Many hospitals and schools have been destroyed.

Among its many missions, the Red Cross in Syria distributes food and other essentials, helps restore water supplies, supports medical services and tries to put family members separated by the war back in touch with each other. The group works in both government-controlled and rebel zones. More than 20 Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers have been killed since the conflict began.

Because of the danger, some humanitarian agencies have left Syria and others have cut back on their staffing in the war-ravaged nation. Still, the Red Cross on Sunday vowed to remain in Syria.

“The ICRC is committed to assist the Syrian people,” the aid group said.

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