“With God’s help we managed to secure a group of U.N. members working in the border town of Jamlah after they were victims of the criminal shelling of Assad’s gangs,” the statement said. “We request from the United Nations to send us a security convoy so that we can deliver them to the organization.”
“We have nothing to do with any of the old statements before this one,” added the posting on the brigade’s Facebook page.
A spokesman for the United Nations said Thursday that officials had “been in touch with the peacekeepers by telephone and confirmed that they have not been harmed.”
The rebels abducted about 20 U.N. observers from the Golan Heights on Wednesday and threatened to hold them until the Syrian government withdrew its troops from the area, marking the most serious escalation of the conflict yet along Syria’s southern border with Israel.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council swiftly issued a statement blaming “armed elements” of the Syrian opposition for the abduction and demanding the “unconditional and immediate release” of all the observers.
On a day that the number of Syrian refugees who have fled the fighting officially passed the 1 million mark, the incident highlighted the danger that Syria’s spiraling conflict will spill beyond its borders and draw in not only the country’s neighbors but perhaps also the wider international community. The vast majority of the refugees have sought sanctuary in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, where they are straining resources and threatening the stability of communities that are often already volatile.
“It seems that lately some people are trying very hard in order to extend the geography of the Syrian conflict,” said Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, speaking after the Security Council session. He noted that the abduction came two days after Iraqi insurgents killed nine Iraqi guards along with 48 Syrian soldiers who had fled rebel advances into Iraq and were being escorted back to Syria when they were ambushed.
“Somebody is trying very hard in order to blow this crisis up,” Churkin said.
The United Nations’ top peacekeeper, Herve Ladsous, had confirmed on Wednesday that negotiations were underway to secure the freedom of the observers, who serve as part of the U.N.’s Disengagement Observer Force monitoring the 1967 cease-fire line between Syria and Israel.