Abduction may lead to expansion of conflict beyond borders

Anti-government fighters have taken around 20 United Nations peacekeepers hostage in the Golan Heights along the Syria-Israel border, a sign of the desperation to expand the conflict in Syria to its neighbouring countries.

The U.N. has confirmed that around 20 peacekeepers have been taken hostage by a group of 30 opposition fighters. The confirmation came after a video surfaced on YouTube showing armed men standing in front of two vehicles bearing U.N. markings.

A U.N. statement said the peacekeepers “were on a regular supply mission and were stopped near Observation Post 58, which had sustained damage and was evacuated this past weekend following heavy combat in close proximity, at Al Jamlah”.

However, in the video posted online, an opposition activist claiming to be part of the “Martyrs of Yarmouk” group blamed the U.N. peacekeepers of partisanship. He said the peacekeepers were collaborating with the Syrian government forces who were engaged in a fierce battle with the opposition fighters in the nearby village of Jamlah. He warned that if “no withdrawal is made within 24 hours we will treat them [peacekeepers] as prisoners”.

Human Rights Watch is investigating the group’s involvement in a videotaped execution of detained Syrian soldiers, which was posted on the Internet on Tuesday.

Russia’s representative at the U.N. Vitaly Churkin has slammed the capture of the peacekeepers as a show of “gross disrespect for the United Nations”. “Right now there are negotiations between U.N. representatives and the captors and we hope that the [U.N.] personnel will be released immediately as the UNSC demands,” he said.

The Russian diplomat said “some people are trying very hard in order to extend the geography of the Syrian conflict”. He was linking the incident on the Syria-Israel border to the killing by antigovernment fighters of 48 Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi servicemen inside Iraqi territory on Monday. Iraq has subsequently closed a border crossing with Syria and dispatched reinforcements.

The recent propensity of elements in the Syrian opposition to pursue extreme military measures has intensified the search for a negotiated end to the conflict. On Thursday, the three heavyweights on Syria — Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and U.N. and Arab League envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi — were to meet in London to deliberate on the situation.