GAZIANTEP, Turkey — A Syrian rebel group that once claimed it had abducted a group of U.N. observers in the Golan Heights announced Thursday that it had in fact rescued them from fighting in the area and called on the United Nations to send a security convoy to pick them up.
The announcement by the Yarmouk Martyrs' Brigade was posted on the same Facebook page that was used to publicize the abduction Wednesday. A video in which the kidnappers warned that the observers would not be released until Syrian President Bashar Assad withdrew troops from the area had been deleted, suggesting that overnight negotiations to secure the groups' release may be working.
"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 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, all Filipinos, from the Golan Heights on Wednesday, marking the most serious escalation of the conflict yet along Syria's southern border with Israel.
The U.N.'s top peacekeeper, Herve Ladsous, had confirmed Wednesday that negotiations were under way to secure the freedom of the observers, part of the U.N.'s Disengagement Observer Force monitoring the 1967 cease-fire line between Syria and Israel.
The abductions were first publicized in a video posted on the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade's Facebook page. The camera shows several white armored vehicles painted with the U.N. logo as a fighter, cleanshaven and wearing a black woolen hat, calls upon "America and the U.N. Security Council" to address the group's demands within 48 hours or "we are going to deal with these people as prisoners."