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Nusra Front releases UN peacekeepers, demands nothing in return

UN peacekeepers are safe and have now crossed into Israeli territory, while Nusra Front denies it demanded to be taken off US terror list
A still from the video showing the group of captured UN peacekeepers in the background (Youtube / aljadeedonline)

Al-Nusra Front on Thursday released the 45 UN peacekeepers captured last month during clashes in the occupied Golan Heights, according to the UN.

The released UN troops have now crossed through a border post into Israeli territory, according to an Israeli army spokesperson.

The Nusra Front, which has been battling forces allied to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, as well as against militants fighting with the self-styled Islamic State (IS), released a video on Wednesday night announcing that the Fijian troops would be released.

In the video, a man claiming to represent the organisation, identified as al-Nusra Front spiritual leader Sami al-Oraidi, announces the release of the peacekeepers, saying that the group will make no demands in return for their release.

“The religion of Allah is the religion of justice, kindness and mercy,” he said. 

Later in the video, one of the peacekeepers issues a statement thanking Nusra for keeping “its word” and releasing the group.

Qatar - which has been instrumental in a number of high-profile hostage releases from militant groups in Syria in recent years - announced that Fijian authorities had made contact with them to request their help in securing a deal. 

Fijian authorities had previously announced some of the Nusra Front’s demands, claiming they had asked for compensation for three of their fighters who were killed in gun battles with UN peacekeeping forces in the demilitarised zone between Syrian territory and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.

They also said the militant group which is al-Qaeda's official representative in Syria, had demanded the delivery of humanitarian aid in different parts of Syria and the removal of their group from the United States terror list. However, Oraidi categorically denied that he ever demanded that the group be removal from the list.

“I must stress that allegations…that Nusra Front leaders demanded the removal of their names from the terror list are untrue,” he said. 

The US State Department designated the group a “terrorist” organisation in 2012. On the Friday following that announcement, protests broke out in support of the group among forces opposed to Bashar’s rule, under the slogan “We are all al-Nusra Front.”

The release of the peacekeepers came a day after President Obama laid out his strategy on tackling the IS threat, saying he is prepared to extend airstrikes to target the militants in Syria.

After Obama’s televised speech several rebel groups fighting with the Free Syrian Army, which has previously entered battles alongside Nusra fighters, announced that they are joining together with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to form a joint operations room against IS in Syria.

IS and Nusra were originally allied in Syria but officially turned the guns on each other earlier this year. 

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