Menu

WORLD

Leaders of moderate Syrian rebels vow to protect journalists and help prevent kidnappings

  • This undated picture released by the family of Ricardo Garcia-Vilanova shows, Spanish photographer Ricardo Garcia-Vilanova, right, who was kidnapped in Syria 11 weeks ago takes photographs of a Free Syrian Army fighter in Aleppo, Syria. The families of two Spanish journalists kidnapped in Syria 11 weeks ago appealed publicly today for their safe and immediate release. Javier Espinosa, bureau chief of EL MUNDO in the Middle East with 25 years of front line reporting, and Ricardo Garcia-Vilanova, award-winning freelance photographer, were abducted on the 16th of September at a check-point near Tal-Abyad, northern Syria. They were taken to facilities belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Raqqa. (AP Photo/Narciso Contreras)The Associated Press

  • This undated picture released by the family of Ricardo Garcia-Vilanova, shows Spanish photographer Ricardo Garcia-Vilanova, right, who was kidnapped in Syria 11 weeks ago walks next to a Syrian boy riding a bike in Aleppo, Syria. The families of two Spanish journalists kidnapped in Syria 11 weeks ago appealed publicly today for their safe and immediate release. Javier Espinosa, bureau chief of EL MUNDO in the Middle East with 25 years of front line reporting, and Ricardo Garcia-Vilanova, award-winning freelance photographer, were abducted on the 16th of September at a check-point near Tal-Abyad, northern Syria. They were taken to facilities belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Raqqa. (AP Photo/Ricardo's Family)The Associated Press

  • In this photo taken on May 24, 2012, Spanish reporters Javier Espinosa, right, and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, left, pose for a photo during the ceremony of the Miguel Gil journalisms awards in Barcelona, Spain. Spanish newspaper El Mundo says one of its reporters and a freelance photographer are being held hostage in Syria by a group linked to al-Qaida. El Mundo said Tuesday that veteran reporter Javier Espinosa and photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova were taken captive on Sept. 16. The two were taken along with four members of the Free Syrian Army rebel group at the Tal Abyad checkpoint in the northern province of Raqqa. (AP Photo/Joan Borras)The Associated Press

  • This undated picture released by the family of Javier Espinosa, shows Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa who was kidnapped in Syria 11 weeks ago, sits at his home in Beirut, Lebanon. The families of two Spanish journalists kidnapped in Syria 11 weeks ago appealed publicly today for their safe and immediate release. Javier Espinosa, bureau chief of EL MUNDO in the Middle East with 25 years of front line reporting, and Ricardo Garcia-Vilanova, award-winning freelance photographer, were abducted on the 16th of September at a check-point near Tal-Abyad, northern Syria. They were taken to facilities belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Raqqa. (AP Photo/The Family of Javier Espinosa)The Associated Press

  • This undated picture shows, Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa who was kidnapped in Syria 11 weeks ago, carrying his daughter, Nour, in Barcelona, Spain. The families of two Spanish journalists kidnapped in Syria 11 weeks ago appealed publicly today for their safe and immediate release. Javier Espinosa, bureau chief of EL MUNDO in the Middle East with 25 years of front line reporting, and Ricardo Garcia-Vilanova, award-winning freelance photographer, were abducted on the 16th of September at a check-point near Tal-Abyad, northern Syria. They were taken to facilities belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Raqqa. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)The Associated Press

The leaders of Syria's main Western-backed moderate rebel faction said they would do everything in their power to protect journalists on assignment in the country and work to secure the release of those who have already been abducted.

The letter from the Supreme Military Council, the military wing of the Syrian National Coalition, came in response to an appeal from 13 major international news organizations calling for urgent action against rebel groups targeting journalists for kidnappings. Syria has become the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, and the number of abductions has soared to an unprecedented level over the past year.

Many of the kidnappings go unreported by news organizations in the hope that keeping the abductions out of public view may help with negotiating the captives' release. The scale of the abductions — more than 30 are believed to be currently held — and the lack of response to individual mediation efforts have encouraged some families and employers to speak out.

The vast majority of the kidnappings over the past six months have occurred in opposition-held parts of northern and eastern Syria, where al-Qaida-linked rebel groups are particularly strong.

Thirteen news organizations, including The Associated Press, sent a letter last week to the Supreme Military Council, which is the leadership of the moderate Free Syrian Army, as well as individual armed groups to urge them to help curb abuses against journalists.

In its response, the Supreme Military Council said: "We will do our utmost to release all journalists who have been detained whilst fulfilling their professional duty and highlighting the suffering of the Syrian people."

"It is imperative that we reiterate that the FSA, along with all of its units and brigades, will do its utmost to protect and support journalists in order that they can fulfill their vital work," it said. "We will do everything in our power to bring an end to the abuses against journalists that have and continue to occur regardless of their coverage. Many of these perpetrators are from groups who are strangers to the culture and good nature of the Syrian people."

The letter, released Saturday, was signed by the head of the Supreme Military Council, Gen. Salim Idris.

It said it will ensure that it will pass on the media organizations' appeal to "all unit commanders and brigades" that share "the values of freedom, justice and democracy."

But other than that, it's not immediately clear what Idris and the FSA can do to protect journalists when the loose-knit moderate rebel factions themselves have been ceding ground to Islamic extremists, including al-Qaida-linked groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Such radical groups are believed responsible for most kidnappings since the summer, although government-backed militias, criminal gangs and rebels affiliated with the Free Syrian Army also have been involved. Their motives have ranged from ransom to prisoner exchanges.