Israel TV: UN had Qatar pay $25m ransom to free Golan peacekeepers
Channel 2 broadcasts footage it says shows UN officials and Al-Nusra rebels finalizing deal last month to secure release of 45 Fijian troops
Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel.
The United Nations last month secured the release of 45 Fijian peacekeeping soldiers, kidnapped on the Syrian side of Golan Heights by the Nusra Front, through the payment of a $25 million ransom by Qatar, an Israeli TV report claimed.
The Fijian soldiers, members of UNDOF, were captured on August 28 by the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, along the DMZ separating Israel and Syria. Their September 11 release, Israel’s Channel 2 said Friday, was obtained after Doha made the ransom payment.
The TV report (Hebrew) said the deal made a mockery of UN and Western leaders’ rhetoric against doing deals with terrorists and paying ransoms for the release of hostages.
The TV station broadcast footage taken by one of its camera crews from the Israeli side of the border which it said documented the September 11 meet between Nusra Front members and United Nations officials, held as the funds were transferred to a Nusra Front bank account. Once it was confirmed that the funds had been received, the Fijian peacekeepers were released, the report said.
The footage purported to show UN officials crossing from Israel into Syria to meet with Al-Nusra leaders to finalize the deal.
It then showed what it said was a Nusra Front convoy arriving to meet them.
And it showed what it said was an Al-Nusra official checking his laptop to see whether the payment had gone through. There was a delay of almost two hours before confirmation was received, the report said, and then the hostage peacekeepers were set free.
Shortly after the incident, an Iranian news outlet accused Qatar of providing financial assistance to the Nusra Front, a charge Doha rejected. Iran backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime Al-Nusra and other rebels are battling to depose.
At the time of the soldiers’ release last month, there was confusion as to whether the Nusra Front had received anything in exchange for freeing the Fijian troops. Fiji announced beforehand that the hostages would soon be released unconditionally, but then retracted the statement. A Reuters report said Qatar claimed Fiji had asked for its assistance in securing the release of the hostages.
The Fijian troops were past of the UN’s 1,200-strong UNDOF force, monitoring the buffer zone between Syria and Israel.
Both US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron have stated in recent months that their governments refuse to negotiate with terrorist organizations, particularly the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Since the release of the Fijian peacekeepers last month, the UN has withdrawn many of its other peacekeepers from the area. Last month, the Philippines began pulling its peacekeeping troops out UNDOF.
The Nusra front controls much of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights border with Israel.