The Al-Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebel group, has presented its demands for the release of 43 Fijian peacekeepers they kidnapped last week, The Associated Press (AP) reported Monday night.
Fiji's military commander, Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga, said the rebels have issued three demands for the release of the peacekeepers: to be taken off the UN terrorist list, delivery of humanitarian aid to parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, and compensation for three of its fighters it says were killed in a shootout with UN officers.
"These are the official demands that are being quoted to the UN for the release of our boys," said Tikoitoga, adding that 45 troops were captured, not 43 as was initially reported.
"Unfortunately we have not made any improvement in the situation, our troops remain at an undisclosed location, the rebels are not telling us where they are," he added. "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."
Tikoitoga said the UN has sent hostage negotiators to Syria, after the Al-Nusra Front abducted the Fijian soldiers Thursday morning and is holding them at an unknown location.
The rebels also surrounded two Filipino units serving in the UN mission that monitors the buffer zone between Israel and Syria, but the Filipino troops escaped over the weekend.
Over the past year, the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has had its peacekeepers seized by armed groups, its observation posts attacked and looted, and its freedom of movement curtailed.
Meanwhile, as fighting intensifies between Syrian army troops and Islamist rebels, the IDF has increased its presence on the Golan Heights. Security officials fear that the fighting could “spill over” the Israeli border.
A senior Israeli security official said that the IDF had recently changed its conception of defense on the Golan. A group of highly trained and experienced soldiers who know the terrain well are now on duty at all times, constituting a forward force ready to deal with trouble as it develops.
The fighting heated up on the Syrian side of the border on Monday, with the sounds of battle distinctly heard in Israel. The heaviest fighting is in the area of the city of Quneitra, just over the border.