Australia welcomes release of Fijian peacekeepers

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Sydney
Sydney, Sep 12: Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has welcomed the unconditional release of 45 Fijian peacekeepers held in Syria on Thursday.

The peacekeepers have been serving with the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), monitoring a 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria at Golan Heights.

"I commend the courage and bravery of the peacekeepers and the strong support shown by their families and friends in Fiji during this difficult time. I also commend the Fiji government for its resolute commitment to ensuring the release of its soldiers and for its handling of the situation," Xinhua quoted Bishop as saying in a statement.

The 45 peacekeepers were released on Thursday afternoon and handed over to the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) at a UN position in the Golan Heights, Xinhua reported citing UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

"All the 45 peacekeepers are in good condition and will proceed back to Camp Foar for medical assessment," Dujarric said.

The Fijian peacekeepers were captured by fighters from the al-Nusra Front, Syria's branch of the Al Qaeda, in the Golan Heights Aug 28.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council both had condemned the capture of UN peacekeepers and demanded their immediate and unconditional release.

The al-Nusra Front described the action as retaliation for what it called the failure of the UN to help the people of Syria in that country's civil war, which has lasted three-and-a-half years and left more than 190,000 people dead.

It confirmed it held the peacekeepers by releasing a statement, two days after the Fijians disappeared.

Earlier on Wednesday, the group posted a video on its Twitter and YouTube accounts in which the hostages said they expected to be freed soon.

The Fijian troops are part of UNDOF, a 1,223-member peacekeeping operation that has monitored the demarcation line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights since 1974.

India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines have also contributed troops to the operation.

IANS

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