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The rebel group holding 45 UN soldiers wants to be taken off the UN's terror list

The Al-Nusra Front want their group taken off the UN’s list of terrorist organisations, as well as compensation for fighters injured in recent days.

An Israeli soldier observes Syria's Quneitra province at an observation point in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
An Israeli soldier observes Syria's Quneitra province at an observation point in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

FIJI HAS FOR the first time revealed the demands being made by Al-Qaeda-linked Syria rebels who took more than 40 UN peacekeepers hostage in the Golan Heights last week.

Fiji army chief Mosese Tikoitoga said the rebels wanted their organisation, the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, to be removed from the UN’s list of terrorist organisations.

He said they also wanted humanitarian aid sent to a small town which is an Al-Nusra stronghold just outside Damascus and were demanding compensation for three of their fighters who had been hurt in recent days.

“These are the official demands that are being quoted to the UN for the release of our boys,” Tikoitoga told reporters in Suva.

Unconfirmed reports in Fiji’s media said the hostage takers were also demanding the release of Abu Mussab al-Suri, also known as Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, an Al-Qaeda leader who was arrested in Pakistan in 2005 and is now being held by Syrian authorities.

Taken

Tikoitoga said there were 45 troops in the captured peacekeeping deployment, not 44 or 43 as authorities originally stated. He released the names of the soldiers and said the Fiji government was operating a crisis centre for their families in Suva.

He said a UN negotiation team had arrived in the Golan Heights from New York to take over negotiations with the rebels.

“Unfortunately we have not made any improvement in the situation, our troops remain at an undisclosed located, the rebels are not telling us where they are,” he said.

But they continue to reassure us that they’re being well looked after, they’re being fed well and are being kept safe. They’ve also told us that they’ve been taken out of battle (combat) areas.

The Fijians were captured last Wednesday when the rebels stormed a Golan Heights crossing.

Another group of 72 Philippine peacekeepers refused to surrender and eventually escaped from two camps on the Syrian side of the border after the rebels besieged them.

Irish troops were involved in an operation to free some of the Filipino soldiers, with a spokesperson for the Defence Forces confirming in the wake of the rescue mission that all troops involved were “safe and accounted for”.

Speaking yesterday, Defence Minister Simon Coveney reiterated his call for a UN review of the mission, and said that would need to happen before the next scheduled rotation of Irish troops, due to happen in the next four weeks.

The soldiers are serving in the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) stationed in a buffer zone to monitor a ceasefire between Syria and Israel since 1974.

 © AFP, 2014 with reporting by Daragh Brophy. 

Read: Irish soldiers “safe and accounted for” after daring rescue mission

Read: Irish peacekeepers safe but “on high alert” after Golan Heights kidnappings

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