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Heavy fighting near Quneitra
Photo: EPA
'Qatar paid ransom for release of Fijian peacekeepers'
Syrian opposition sources say 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers were freed after Qatar paid $20 million to captors from the al-Qaeda-linked group Nusra Front in Syria.

Syrian opposition sources said on Saturday that Qatar paid militants from the Nusra Front in Syria a ransom of $20 million in return for the release of the 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers, the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported.

 

 

The report comes a day after the Qatari Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that it had helped to secure the release of the peacekeepers following "the request of the government of Fiji".

 

45 Fijian forces held hostage for two weeks
45 Fijian forces held hostage for two weeks

 

"The efforts of the State of Qatar led to the successful release of the Fijian soldiers... who had been held for two weeks," the Gulf emirate said in a statement.

 

Qatar said it had acted on "humanitarian" grounds, and that did not hesitate to mobilise all its means and diplomatic channels to save lives".

 

A UN spokesman previously said the abductors had made no demands to secure their release, "and there were no concessions".

   

The Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper further reported that Qatar had paid the Islamist organization $1 million for the release of each soldier. However, an official confirmation regarding this information has yet to be obtained.

 

On Thursday, the IDF spokesperson confirmed that the 45 Fijian peacekeepers that had been captured by al-Nusra Front rebels in the Syrian Golan had been released and crossed into Israel safely.

 

A day earlier, the head of Fiji's army said the Islamist militant group had dropped all of its demands to free the hostages, but at least slightly back-pedaled later in the day as the situation appeared to deteriorate.

 

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.

 

Rebels on Golan border crossing with Israel
Rebels on Golan border crossing with Israel

 

The fighters then turned on the UN blue helmets from a peacekeeping force that has patrolled the ceasefire line for 40 years. After the Fijians were captured, more than 70 Filipinos spent two days besieged at two locations before reaching safety.

 

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

 

Heavy fighting

Massive battles between rebels from the al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have been raging in recent weeks, just meters from Israel's Golan border with Syria, leading to an occasional stray bullet or mortar.

 

The Al-Arabiya network reported that the rebels have taken control of almost the entire swathe of the county that runs alongside the border with Israel.

 

According to the reports, the rebels were able to seize control of two additional villages on the outskirts of Quneitra, and that the Druze border community of Hadar is the only village currently under the control of Assad’s forces.

 

Rebels, Assad battle over Quneitra (Photo: EPA) (Photo: EPA)
Rebels, Assad battle over Quneitra (Photo: EPA)

 

Opposition sources in Syria reported that rebels took over the village of Al Hamidya not far from Quneitra. Earlier reports said that rebels also captured the village of Raqadi, also in the Golan region.

 

Meanwhile, heavy artillery fire by regime forces was reported in the areas surrounding the villages, both of which are very close to the border with Israel, a possible explanation for Friday's mortar.

 

On Monday afternoon an IDF soldier was very lightly wounded in the Golan Heights by gun fire from Syria. According to the IDF the bullet hit his leg, and it was unclear if the bullet was a result of errant fire or an intentional attack.

 

Yoav Zitun and news agencies contributed to this report.

 


פרסום ראשון: 09.13.14, 11:49
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