A commander with the Islamist Nusra Front, a group linked to al Qaeda, told Reuters the Fijian peacekeepers had been detained because UNDOF was aiding the government of President Bashar al-Assad and had ignored the suffering of the Syrian people.
UNDOF has been deployed “since 1974 to ensure the safety and protection of the borders with (Israel), the usurper of the lands of the Muslims, at the same time it completely ignored the daily shedding of the Muslims’ blood on the other side of the border,” part of a Nusra Twitter message said.
It added that the men were being treated well and were in good health.
A U.N. official said a number of UNDOF contingents participated in the rescue on Saturday, assisted by Israeli and Syrian forces. It was unclear what form that assistance took.
UNDOF has 1,223 peacekeepers in the zone from six countries: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines.
The United Nations said this week the Philippines had decided to pull out of UNDOF and from a U.N. force in Liberia, which is struggling with an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
Blue-helmeted U.N. troops were seized on the Golan Heights by militants in March and May 2013. In both cases they were released safely.
Austria, Japan and Croatia have all pulled their troops out of UNDOF due to the deteriorating security situation and spillover from the Syrian war.
The Golan is a strategic plateau captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, and Syria and Israel technically remain at war. UNDOF monitors the area of separation, a narrow strip of land running about 70 km (45 miles) from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan.
Rebels of the Nusra Front have been battling the Syrian army in the area and have wrested control of the border crossing at Quneitra, which is operated by the United Nations.
The Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga updated members of the Press this morning on the Fijian peacekeepers in the Golan region.
A video of this update can be accessed at http://youtu.be/ti2s-kzhM98
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