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01:22, 02 September 2014 Tuesday

Nusra Front demands release of al-Qaida leader for detained UN peacekeepers

Nusra Front demands release of al-Qaida leader for detained UN peacekeepers

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

Rebels of al Qaeda-linked 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.

Nusra supporters on Twitter said on Sunday the group is demanding the release of Abu Mussab al-Suri, a top al Qaeda leader, in exchange for the detained peacekeepers.

Al-Suri, a Syrian national from Aleppo, was captured in Pakistan in 2005 and handed over to Syria, where he is still believed to be detained.

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 said the Fijian troops were being treated well and were in good health.

Meanwhile, Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama today revealed that 45 Fijian soldiers and not 44 are being held hostage by rebels in Syria.

“I want to brief you all on the latest information we have on the 45 Fijian soldiers being detained in Syria.

“The latest information we have from multiple sources is that they are safe and are being held in an undisclosed location. We have opened channels of communication with the Al Nusra Front – the armed group responsible for their capture – and negotiations are proceeding. Yesterday, the group released a photograph of our men who appeared to be in good health.

“Yesterday, I spoke with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who reassured me that the UN was bringing all of its available resources to the negotiating table. He also took the opportunity to praise the work our soldiers are doing in the Golan Heights and on other UN peacekeeping missions around the world.

“The RFMF has set up a crisis centre in Vatuwaqa that is providing support to the families of soldiers deployed overseas and especially those in Syria. The Government fully supports this outreach and stands ready to assist in any way we can,” Bainimarama said.