Qatari hostages held in Iraq since 2015 freed

An image grab taken from a handout video released by the Iraqi Interior Ministry on Friday, shows Qatari men who were kidnapped while hunting in southern Iraq in 2015 boarding a plane at Baghdad airport following their release. (AFP)
Updated 22 April 2017

Qatari hostages held in Iraq since 2015 freed

JEDDAH/DOHA/BAGHDAD: Twenty-six hostages, including Qatar ruling family members, were freed on Friday after being held for 16 months by unidentified gunmen in Iraq, Qatar-based satellite channel Al Jazeera reported.

Al Jazeera said the men were freed and handed over to Iraq’s Interior Ministry, but gave no further details on the release of the hostages, who were seized in December 2015 while on a hunting trip near the border with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia welcomed the move and thanked the Iraqi government, led by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, for its efforts to ensure the release of Qataris. Two Saudis were also part of the group, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

An Iraqi security official said Iraq was verifying the identities of the men and would hand them over to Qatar’s ambassador to Baghdad.

About 100 armed men seized the group of Qatari hunters, which included royal family members and also other nationals, from a desert camp for falcon hunters in southern Iraq. A Qatari royal and a Pakistani man were later freed.

The release of the remaining hostages comes days after a deal was announced in Syria for the evacuation of Syrian civilians and fighters from four besieged towns, which British newspaper the Guardian reported Qatar had helped mediate in exchange for the freeing of the hunters.

The abduction ignited months of negotiations between Iran, Qatar and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, according to an Arab diplomat in Doha.

Qatari officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. No one has claimed responsibility for the abduction of the hunters.

Israel drops leaflets warning Gazans not to approach border

Updated 20 April 2018

Israel drops leaflets warning Gazans not to approach border

GAZA: Israel dropped leaflets in the Gaza Strip on Friday warning Palestinians not to approach its border fence as the military braced for fresh clashes along the frontier.
Thousands of Palestinians were expected to gather along the Israel-Gaza border, as they have every Friday over the past month for mass demonstrations that have turned violent and during which Israeli forces have killed thirty-one Palestinians and wounded hundreds.
Each week, some Gazans have hurled stones and burning tires near the frontier fence, where Israeli army sharpshooters are deployed.
The soldiers have opened fire at those who come too close to the fence, drawing international criticism for the lethal tactics used.
Israel has blamed the Islamist militant group Hamas of staging riots and trying to carry out attacks.
It was the first time leaflets were dropped in the recent round of violence.
“The Hamas terror organization is taking advantage of you in order to carry out terror attacks. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is prepared for all scenarios. Stay away from the fence and do not attempt to harm it,” said the leaflets scattered by Israeli aircraft in the early morning in areas along the border.
The mass protest, dubbed “The Great March of Return” — evoking a longtime call for refugees to regain ancestral homes in what is now Israel — began on March 30 and is expected to culminate on May 15.