Al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front rebels in Syria released 45 U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji today two weeks after they were captured.
“We can confirm they have been released” and would cross at Quneitra and be moved to the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights, U.N. Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq said Thursday.
The peacekeepers, reported to be “in good condition,” were handed over to the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, or UNDOF, the United Nations says.
The Fijian blue helmets were taken hostage on Aug. 28, a day after rebels seized control of the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing from President Bashar Assad’s troops, The Associated Press says.
The BBC, quoting Fijian authorities, says Nusra Front rebels “demanded to be taken off the UN’s list of designated terrorist organisations, wanted humanitarian aid be delivered to parts of Syria, and sought compensation for three fighters killed in a gunfight with Undof forces in the Golan Heights.”
A group of some 80 Filipino peacekeepers were surrounded by Nusra Front rebels at about the same time as the Fijians. The Filipino troops refused to surrender and managed to escape with the help of Irish forces attached to the U.N.
According to the AP:
“The Fijians’ release comes just hours after the Nusra Front posted a video online in which the captive peacekeepers can be seen sitting cross-legged in the background as two men with long beards deliver short speeches in Arabic. Near the end of the video, one of the Fijian soldiers addresses the camera in English. He says the date is Sept. 9 and it’s a ‘very happy day.’
“‘We’ve been informed that we will be released soon, and we are all very happy to be going home,’ he says, adding that all the soldiers are alive, safe and well.”