Qaeda-linked Syria rebels release Fijian peacekeepers

AFP , Thursday 11 Sep 2014

This image made from video posted on a militant social media account on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014 shows U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji, background, held captive by militants from the Nusra Front in Syria. (AP Photo )

Al-Qaeda linked rebels in Syria on Thursday released a group of 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers they kidnapped two weeks ago in the Golan Heights and they were transferred to Israel, officials said.

The Fijians were serving in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which is monitoring a 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights.

"Today at 1430 local time, the 45 Fijian peacekeepers who had been detained were handed to UNDOF," a UN spokesman said.

"All the 45 peacekeepers are in good condition," he added, saying they would undergo medical checkups.

Shortly after being released the peacekeepers crossed over from Syria into Israel, a spokeswoman for the Israeli army told AFP.

"We opened the gate for them, they are in Israel," she said.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said they were being taken in UN vehicles to a UN base near Quneitra in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Fijians were captured on August 28 by fighters from the Al-Nusra Front who stormed a Golan Heights crossing and forced them to surrender their weapons.

The rebels also besieged a second group of peacekeepers, Filipinos, who refused to disarm and managed to escape.

Al-Nusra said in a video late Wednesday that it planned to free the Fijian peacekeepers, dropping demands for aid, a prisoner release and the removal of the group from a UN terror blacklist.

A Fijian peacekeeper, who did not identify himself, also spoke in the footage, confirming that the group had pledged to free the soldiers.

"We have been informed that we will be released soon and we are all very happy to be going home," he said.

The peacekeeper adds that the troops "are all safe and alive" and thanked Al-Nusra "for keeping us safe and keeping us alive."

"I would like to assure you that we have not been harmed in any way," he said.

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