Forty-five United Nations peacekeepers from Fiji were released by Syrian rebel group Nusra Front. They were taken hostage when the Al Qaeda-linked organization seized control of the Quneitra crossing on August 28th.
According to the BBC, in exchange for releasing the peacekeepers, Nusra Front had “demanded to be taken off the UN’s list of designated terrorist organisations, wanted humanitarian aid be delivered to parts of Syria, and sought compensation for three fighters killed in a gunfight with Undof forces in the Golan Heights.”
None of these demands were fulfilled. So why did the rebel group release the peacekeepers sua sponte?
I think the reason is relatively straightforward, and it points straight back to one of the primary drivers of conflict in Syria (and elsewhere) — climate change-induced drought. Here’s a brief summary (from a year and a half ago; emphasis mine):
In October 2010, just months before a Tunisian street vendor self-immolated and sparked what would become the Arab Spring, a prolonged drought was turning Syria’s verdant farmland into dust. By last month, more than 70,000 Syrians, mostly civilians, had been killed in the brutal and ongoing conflict between President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorial regime and a coalition of opposition forces; just today, the U.N. announced that over 1 million refugees fled the country in the last two years. International security experts are now looking at the connection between recent droughts in the Middle East and the protests, revolutions, and deaths that followed, and building a body of evidence to suggest that climate change played a key role in Syria’s violence and the Arab Spring generally.
When viewed in this light, it becomes obvious what the rebel group really hoped to obtain from the peacekeepers from Fiji: