Golan Heights: UN seeks help to free peacekeepers held hostage

United Nations: The UN Security Council has called on "countries with influence" to press al-Qaeda-linked insurgents to release 45 UN peacekeepers from Fiji abducted last week in the Golan Heights.

A press statement approved by all 15 council members after a briefing by UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous yesterday again demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the Fijian peacekeepers. Heavy clashes have raged in the Golan Heights since Syrian rebels captured a border crossing between Syria and Israel near the abandoned town of Quneitra last yesterday.

Fighters from al-Qaida's Syria branch, the Nusra Front, abducted the Fijian peacekeepers and surrounded two Filipino contingents serving in the UN force known as UNDOF the following day.

 Golan Heights: UN seeks help to free peacekeepers held hostage

A UN peacekeeper. Representational image. Agencies.

The Security Council welcomed the news that all the Filipinos were safe and commended the UN peacekeeping mission's quick reaction force for its assistance. Ladsous told reporters the peacekeepers have shown "steadfastness and courage" and said the UN is working to obtain the swift and unconditional release of the Fijians.

"We are sparing no effort to obtain the release of the detained peacekeepers," he said, but gave no details stressing the importance of "discretion."

Fiji commander's Brig Gen Mosese Tikoitoga said on Tuesday that the Nusra Front has made three demands for the release of the peacekeepers: It wants to be taken off the UN terrorist list, wants humanitarian aid delivered to parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, and wants compensation for three of its fighters it says were killed in a shootout with UN officers.

The Nusra Front 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.

UNDOF was established in May 1974 following intensified firing on the Israel-Syria border after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, and Syria has campaigned for decades for return of the land. For nearly four decades, the UN monitors helped enforce a stable
truce between Israel and Syria but the Golan Heights has increasingly become a battlefield in the more than three-year-old Syrian conflict.

AP

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Updated Date: Sep 04, 2014 07:36:50 IST