Report: Qatar paid $20 million ransom for Fijians’ release
Al-Nusra front reported to be in control of 80 percent of Syrian border with Israel
Syrian opposition forces said on Saturday that Qatar had paid militants from the Nusra front $20 million ransom for their return.
This comes a day after Qatar’s Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that it had brokered the release of 45 Fijian U.N. peacekeepers “at the request of the government of Fiji.”
“The efforts of the State of Qatar led to the successful release of the Fijian soldiers… who had been held for two weeks,” the Qatari foreign ministry said in a statement.
The reports of a ransom fly in the face of earlier statements from the UN that no concessions had been made to secure the peacekeepers’ release.
On Thursday an IDF spokesperson confirmed that the 45 Fijians captured by al-Nusra front rebels had been released and crossed into Israel.
Meanwhile, the Al-Arabiya network reported on Saturday that al-Qaeda-led rebels have seized most of the Syrian side of the armistice line with Israel on the Golan Heights.
Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and its allies launched a major offensive against government forces in Quneitra province last month, capturing the sole crossing point over the armistice line to the Israeli-occupied sector of the strategic plateau.
“The regime is on the retreat before the advancing rebels,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
“The regime has now lost control of about 80 percent of towns and villages in Quneitra province.”
The rebels seized 45 UN peacekeepers on the Golan on August 28 and held them hostage until Thursday.
They are part of the 1,200-strong UN Disengagement Observer Force, which monitors a 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria on the Golan.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the territory during the Six-Day War of 1967, then annexed it in 1981 in a move never recognized by the international community.
Syria has never relinquished its claim to the territory and its return was the subject of peace talks with Israel in the 1990s and again in 2008.
Any prospect of the talks’ resumption has been torpedoed by the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime that erupted in March 2011 and swiftly escalated into a civil war that has claimed more than 191,000 lives.