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United Nations confirms 45 Fijian peacekeepers freed

Former captives released at Quneitra, on the Syrian Golan Heights, and are ‘in good condition,’ international body says

Undated image, attached in a statement released on August 30, 2014, on the Hanin Network website, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by the Nusra Front on August 28, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Hanin Network Website, File)
Undated image, attached in a statement released on August 30, 2014, on the Hanin Network website, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by the Nusra Front on August 28, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Hanin Network Website, File)

The United Nations said Thursday that all 45 Fijian peacekeepers held captive by an al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel group have been released in Syria’s Golan Heights.

UN Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq said: “We can confirm they have been released.” He said they were released at the Quneitra crossing point in the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan Heights.

The UN said in a statement: “All the 45 peacekeepers are in good condition and will proceed back to Camp Foar for medical assessment.”

Fighters from the Nusra Front group captured the Fijian troops late last month in the Golan Heights, where a 1,200-strong UN force monitors the buffer zone between Syria and Israel.

It is unclear as of yet whether the Nusra Front received anything in exchange for the release of the Fijian troops. On Wednesday Fiji announced that the hostages would soon be released unconditionally, but later retracted the statement.

On Wednesday, the group released a video showing the 45 peacekeepers, who said they were happy and being taken care of.

In exchange for the Fijians’ release, Nusra Front had demanded removal of the group from the UN terrorist list, the delivery of humanitarian aid to parts of the Syrian capital of Damascus, and compensation for three of its fighters who, it claims, were killed in a shootout with UN officers.

The capture of the 45 came during heavy fighting between rebels groups and Syrian regulars around the Quneitra crossing, the sole transfer point between Israel and Syria. Dozens of other peacekeepers from the Philippines managed to escape the group during a firefight.

The Nusra Front has accused the UN of doing nothing to help the Syrian people since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. It said the Fijians were seized in retaliation for the UN’s ignoring “the daily shedding of the Muslims’ blood in Syria” and even colluding with Assad’s army “to facilitate its movement to strike the vulnerable Muslims” through a buffer zone in the Golan Heights.

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