45 Fijian Peacekeepers Freed in Syria

The United Nations and Al Jazeera television said 45 Fijian peacekeepers, held captive by an al-Qaida-backed group, were released on Thursday in Syria’s Golan Heights.

U.N. Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq said: “We can confirm they have been released.”

The peacekeepers then crossed into Israeli-held territory on the Golan Heights, an Israeli military spokeswoman said.

“We opened the border and they entered,” the spokeswoman said.

Haq and Al Jazeera said the group arrived in several vehicles at the Quneitra crossing point in the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan Heights.

The U.N. 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 captured the Fijian troops late last month in the Golan Heights, where a 1,200-strong U.N. force monitors the buffer zone between Syria and Israel.

Social media sites

On Wednesday, the group had posted a video on its Twitter and YouTube accounts in which the hostages, from the South Pacific nation of Fiji, said they expected to be freed soon.

The head of Fiji’s army said on Wednesday the Islamist militant group had dropped all of its demands to free the 45 hostages, but at least slightly back-pedalled later in the day as the situation appeared to deteriorate.

The Nusra Front had demanded compensation for fighters killed during the confrontation, humanitarian assistance for its supporters and its removal from the U.N. list of terrorist organizations.

Syria’s three-year civil war reached the frontier with Israeli-controlled territory last month when Islamist fighters overran a crossing point in the line that has separated Israelis from Syrians in the Golan Heights since a 1973 war.

Since independence from Britain in 1970, Fiji has sent more soldiers on U.N. peacekeeping missions than any other nation, on a per capita basis, which provides its stalled economy with much-needed hard currency and helps to bolster its global standing.

Some materials for this report came from Reuters and AP.

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