Al-Nusra frees kidnapped U.N. peacekeepers
The U.N. has confirmed that the 45 kidnapped Fijian peacekeepers have been released
Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front on Thursday freed 45 United Nations peacekeepers kidnapped two weeks ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"They were released today by Al-Nusra," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Observatory, told Agence France-Presse.
The U.N. has confirmed that the 45 kidnapped Fijian peacekeepers have been released.
Al-Nusra released a video late Wednesday showing a Fijian peacekeeper thanking the militant group for keeping him and his colleagues alive, AFP reported.
In the video released through its media wing, Al-Nusra said it had consulted religious leaders and they had advised “that we should release these prisoners.”
A Fijian peacekeeper, who did not identify himself, spoke in the footage, confirming that the group had pledged to free the soldiers.
“It is Tuesday, the ninth of September, I would like to mention to you that it is a very happy day,” the peacekeeper says in English.
“We have been informed that we will be released soon and we are all very happy to be going home.”
The peacekeeper adds that the troops “are all safe and alive” and thanks 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 says.
The peacekeepers, all Fijian nationals, were taken hostage two weeks ago when Al-Nusra fighters stormed the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing that leads to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Al-Nusra had originally demanded various terms for the release of the peacekeepers, including the delivery of aid to areas besieged by the Syrian government, the release of prisoners and the group's removal from a U.N. terror blacklist.
Earlier in the week, the Fijian government appeared to announce that the troops were to be released imminently in posts on social media that were subsequently removed.
On Wednesday, a Fijian government spokesman told AFP that the posts were the result of someone having “misinterpreted” the situation.
The Fijians are part of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has been stationed in the Golan Heights since 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Syria.
There are currently 1,200 peacekeepers from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands.