U.N. calls for release of Fijian peacekeepers held by Syrian rebels

Story highlights

  • U.N. Security Council calls for release of peacekeepers
  • They were captured by Al Nusra Front in a buffer zone
  • Abduction occurred last week in the Golan Heights

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday called for the release of dozens of U.N. peacekeepers, kidnapped by al Qaeda-linked rebels in the Golan Heights.

The peacekeepers were captured Thursday by the al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate, in the buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli-occupied territory, a day after rebels seized control of a border crossing between the two.

"The members of the Security Council again condemned in the strongest terms the detention of 45 Fijian peacekeepers by a Security Council-designated terrorist organization," said Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reading a statement on behalf of the Security Council.

Discussions with captors are ongoing by "various parties" at "various levels," according to Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The Al-Nusra Front is reportedly demanding to be removed from the United Nation's terror list, Fiji army chief Mosese Tikoitoga told AFP on Tuesday.

"We are sparing no effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers," Herve Ladsous, head of the U.N.'s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, said at a press conference.

Ladsous said that the body was working on the "immediate and safe and unconditional release" of the peacekeepers, but could not give details about talks or negotiations because of the sensitivity of the situation.

    The United Nations is reviewing the way peacekeepers are conducting their operations in that "sensitive part of the world," Ladsous said.

    The peacekeepers are part of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, which has overseen a buffer zone in the Golan Heights since 1974 to maintain a ceasefire between Israel and Syria. Fighting from Syria's civil war spilled over into the buffer zone last week.

    The Fijians' exact whereabouts remain unclear after they were forced from their position near the Syrian town of Quneitra by the rebels.

    Al-Nusra Front released pictures online over the weekend that purported to show 45 peacekeepers and their U.N. identification cards.