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 I. 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’s top peacekeeper, Herve Ladsous, indicated that negotiations had already begun 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.
“It’s a very serious incident. The situation is ongoing, negotiations are going on, and the matter is mobilizing all of our teams,” Ladsous told reporters after briefing the council.
According to a U.N. statement, about 20 observers on a regular supply mission to the no man’s land between Israel and Syria were detained by a group of around 30 armed fighters near a post that had been damaged in recent fighting and had been evacuated over the weekend. The statement did not give the nationalities of the observers.
The abductions were first publicized in a video posted on the Facebook page of a rebel group calling itself the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade. The camera pans to show several white armored vehicles painted with the U.N. logo as a fighter, clean-shaven and wearing a black woolen hat, calls upon “America and the U.N. Security Council” to address the group’s demands.
“We won’t release them unless Bashar al-Assad’s troops withdraw from the village of Jamlah on the border with Israel,” the man says, referring to Syria’s president. “If they don’t leave within 48 hours we are going to deal with these people as prisoners.”
The mainstream rebel group, the Free Syrian Army, condemned the abductions and said it has no relationship with those holding the observers. Free Syrian Army units in the Golan area have launched a search for the observers and the rebels holding them, said Louay al-Mokdad, the political and media coordinator for the Free Syrian Army.