Approximately forty-three peacekeepers from the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) have been kidnapped while stationed in the Golan Heights area near the border of Syria and Israel. Initial reports have stated that the 43 are all Fiji nationals.
Many blame the kidnapping on the Al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate that also has ties to the Islamic State terror group.
UNDOF was established in 1974 to act as a UN buffer zone to keep the peace between Syria and Israel. Syria lost much of the Golan Heights to Israel in 1967 after a failed invasion was launched against the Jewish state.
Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said Friday that his country was involved in negotiations to free the hostages safely. “I want to assure the families of the soldiers that we are doing everything possible to secure their safe return. The latest information we have is that they are safe and I can say now that the negotiations for their release have already begun,” he said. The Prime Minister said Fiji had united in support of their kidnapped peacekeepers and are “praying for their safe return.”
The Islamist fighters demanded that the remaining seventy-five soldiers of UNDOF, who are reportedly Filipino nationals, must lay down their arms. Thus far, the fighters have reportedly refused to do so.
Filipino commander Roberto Ancan told reporters from Manila, “We can use deadly force in defense of the UN facilities. I [would] just like to emphasize our troops are well-armed, they are well trained … they are well-disciplined warrior peacekeepers.”
The government of the Philippines had previously announced that it would bring its troops home in October due to safety concerns; last September, 25 of their troops were abducted by Islamists, but were released shortly thereafter.
In Late June, Breitbart News reported on photos that surfaced showing top commanders from Al-Nusra Front declaring their loyalty to the Islamic State.
Some estimates state that Al-Nusra Front’s fighting force is upwards of 20,000 jihadis.