Syria's Nusra Front releases UN peacekeepers in Golan

The United Nations said all 45 Fijians, who had been held by Nusra Front fighters for the past two weeks, had been released.

Syria's Nusra Front releases UN peacekeepers in Golan

World Bulletin/News Desk

The United Nations on Thursday confirmed the release of all 45 Fijian peacekeepers who had been held for two weeks by militants in the Golan Heights on the Israeli-Syrian border.

"Today at 1430 hours local time, the 45 Fijian peacekeepers who had been detained were handed to UNDOF at Position 80," the U.N. press office said in a statement. "All the 45 peacekeepers are in good condition and will proceed back to Camp Foar for medical assessment."

Al Jazeera television said on Thursday that vehicles carrying dozens of Fijian U.N. peacekeepers, released arrived at a Golan Heights crossing.

Fijian peacekeepers crossed into Israeli-held territory on the Golan Heights, an Israeli military spokeswoman said.

"We opened the border and they entered," the spokeswoman said, without giving any numbers.

Earlier the television channel had said that the Nusra Front had freed the peacekeepers it seized two weeks ago on the Golan Heights and they had arrived at the Quneitra crossing between the Israeli-held portion of Golan and Syrian territory.

On Wednesday the group posted a video on its Twitter and YouTube accounts in which the hostages, from the South Pacific nation of Fiji, say they expect to be freed soon.

The video was apparently recorded a day earlier, appears to show the troops in a good condition, at points smiling and waving at the camera.

On Wednesday, the head of Fiji's army said the militant group had dropped all of its demands to free the hostages, but at least slightly back-pedalled later in the day as the situation appeared to deteriorate.

It was unclear whether the video, carried by the SITE monitoring service, was made before or after the confusion surrounding those comments, but a U.N. source earlier told Reuters that the militants had insisted on such a video as a condition for the peacekeepers' release.

"By the way, we are all safe and alive, and we thank Jabhat al-Nusra for keeping us safe and keeping us alive. I'd like to assure you that we have not been harmed in any way," one hostage, who was not identified, said, using the Nusra Front's full name.

"We understand that with the limited resources that they have, they have provided the best for us and we truly appreciate it and we thank them. We are thankful that Jabhat al-Nusra has kept its word and that we will be going home."

Syria's three-year civil war reached the frontier with Israeli-controlled territory last month when fighters overran a crossing point in the line that has separated Israelis from Syrians in the Golan Heights since a 1973 war.

The fighters then turned on the U.N. blue helmets from a peacekeeping force that has patrolled the ceasefire line for 40 years. After the Fijians were captured, more than 70 Filipinos spent two days besieged at two locations before reaching safety.

The Nusra Front had demanded compensation for fighters killed during the confrontation, humanitarian assistance for its supporters and its removal from the U.N. list of terrorist organisations.

Qatar, one country in the Middle East thought by the United States to have influence with the militant group, said that Fiji had formally requested its assistance in freeing the hostages.

U.S. officials have said that Qatar played a critical role in persuading the Nusra Front to free American journalist Peter Theo Curtis last month, whom it had been holding hostage since 2012.

"The Government of the Republic of Fiji requested the State of Qatar for mediation in the release of Fijian soldiers serving with peacekeeping forces detained in Syria," Qatar's Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted to its website on Wednesday.

Since independence from Britain in 1970, Fiji has sent more soldiers on U.N. peacekeeping missions than any other nation, on a per capita basis, which provides its stalled economy with much-needed hard currency and helps to bolster its global image.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 11 Eylül 2014, 16:51