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Thu 11 Sep 2014 11:54 AM

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Al Qaeda-backed group releases kidnapped UN peacekeepers - report

Nusra Front group on Wednesday posted a video of the 45 hostages captured two weeks ago on Syria's Golan Heights

Al Qaeda-backed group releases kidnapped UN peacekeepers - report

Al Jazeera television said on Thursday the Al Qaeda-backed
Nusra Front group released UN peacekeepers it seized two weeks ago on the Golan

The group on Wednesday posted a video on its
Twitter and YouTube accounts in which the hostages, from the South Pacific
nation of Fiji, said they expected to be freed soon.

The head of Fiji's army said on Wednesday the
Islamist militant group had dropped all of its demands to free the 45 hostages,
but at least slightly back-pedalled later in the day as the situation appeared
to deteriorate.

It was unclear whether the video, carried by the
SITE monitoring service, was made before or after the confusion surrounding
those comments, but a UN source earlier told Reuters that the militants had
insisted on such a video as a condition for the peacekeepers' release.

"By the way, we are all safe and alive, and we
thank Jabhat al-Nusra for keeping us safe and keeping us alive. I'd like to
assure you that we have not been harmed in any way," one hostage, who was
not identified, said, using the Nusra Front's full name.

"We understand that with the limited resources
that they have, they have provided the best for us and we truly appreciate it
and we thank them. We are thankful that Jabhat al-Nusra has kept its word and
that we will be going home."

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.

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 organisations.

Qatar, one country in the Middle East thought by
the United States to have influence with the Islamist militant group, said Fiji
had formally requested its assistance in freeing the hostages.

US officials have said that Qatar played a critical
role in persuading the Nusra Front to free American journalist Peter Theo
Curtis last month, whom the front had been holding hostage since 2012.

Since independence from Britain in 1970, Fiji has
sent more soldiers on UN peacekeeping missions than any other nation, on a per
capita basis, which provides its stalled economy with much-needed hard currency
and helps to bolster its global standing.

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