Middle East

Syria conflict: Rebels release Fijian UN peacekeepers

Screengrab of video posted online on 11 September 2014 showing Fijian peacekeepers held captive by Syrian rebel group al-Nusra Front Image copyright AP
Image caption The Fijian peacekeepers were shown in a video released by the al-Nusra Front earlier on Thursday

Forty-five Fijian UN peacekeepers captured by an al-Qaeda-affiliated rebel group in the Syrian Golan Heights have been released, the UN says.

A statement said they were handed over to UN Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) personnel at 14:30 (11:30 GMT).

All the peacekeepers were in a good condition, it added.

Members of the al-Nusra Front captured the Fijians last month during clashes between rebels and Syrian government forces in the demilitarised zone.

According to the Fijian authorities, al-Nusra demanded to be taken off the UN's list of designated terrorist organisations, wanted humanitarian aid be delivered to parts of Syria, and sought compensation for three fighters killed in a gunfight with Undof forces in the Golan Heights.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption This is not the first time Undof personnel have been detained by Syrian rebels

In a video posted online earlier on Thursday, two rebels appeared beside the peacekeepers and said they had given them assurances that they would not be harmed, and that they had honoured those assurances.

The men said they had sought a prisoner exchange and aid deliveries, but denied that they had asked the UN to amend its terrorist list.

This is not the first time since the uprising in Syria began that Undof personnel have been detained by rebels and subsequently released.

Israel seized most of the Golan Heights in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973. Both countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which Undof's mission began.