0

Comments

Facebook

Twitter

Google

send


NOW

Al-Nusra issues demands for release of kidnapped soldiers

Tires burning in Beirut during a demonstration by the families of Lebanese soldiers captured in Arsal, on October 29, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front has issued a set of demands for the release of more than 20 Lebanese soldiers and security forces kidnapped during the August fighting in the eastern Bekaa town of Arsal.

 

The statement, posted on Nusra’s Twitter feed, includes three proposals for a prisoner swap. For each hostage soldier, the government would secure the release of 10 detainees from a Lebanese prison; or seven detainees in Lebanon and 30 female detainees from Syrian jails; or five detainees in Lebanon and 50 female detainees held in Syria.

 

The demands were submitted on 30 October to the Qatari envoy, Syrian national Ahmad al-Khatib, who met with Nusra Front representatives in the mountains outside Arsal and delivered the list of demands to the government committee handling the negotiations.

 

The Nusra statement asserts that Khatib met again with representatives from the group on 1 November, and related “near preliminary approvalby Lebanese authorities for the release of prisoners from Lebanese prisons and female prisoners from Syrian jails. Khatib then received a list of the names of some of the prisoners Nusra Front wants released.

 

The statement added that any female prisoners released from Syrian jails should be released to Turkish or Qatari intermediaries.

 

“The Syrian and Lebanese [male] Islamist detainees in Lebanese jails should be handed over [to the Nusra Front] in the mountains of Arsal or to wherever the released detainees ask to go. As for Islamist detainees of other nationalities, they should be handed over at the Syrian-Turkish border, or wherever each detainee asks to go,” the statement added.

 

Nusra also requested that the swap be documented through the media, and reiterated that “it is the Iranian [Hezbollah] who involved Lebanon in this [situation], after it fought and displaced Sunnis in Syria by standing by the criminal [Alawite] regime and by controlling the army’s [decision-making].”

 

A well-informed source close to the Interior Ministry said that the deal proposed by the Nusra Front does not include Lebanese servicemen detained by the Islamic State (ISIS; IS) jihadist group.

 

“The list [of demands] concerns strictly the soldiers detained by Al-Nusra – IS has its own demands, but it did not send them [to the Lebanese government] in an official manner,” the source told NOW.

 

The source declined to give further information on the course of negotiations.

 

Nabil Halabi, executive director of the Lebanese Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, said the government is out of options. “It would be wise of the cabinet to accept one of the three suggestions, because the families of the kidnapped soldiers will no longer tolerate the government’s reluctance. This is the only choice the cabinet has.”

 

Frustrated over the pace of negotiations and perceived government indifference, families of the kidnapped soldiers have repeatedly demonstrated to demand their release, blocking roads and highways in the Bekaa Valley and erecting tents and burning tires in Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square. Last week demonstrators threatened to escalate the protests.

 

After the army staged mass arrests of Syrian refugees in Arsal in September, a Nusra commander declared to Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar that there would be no further negotiations, adding that militants had “dressed the [hostages] in their death clothes.”

 

But last week Lebanon’s Health Minister Wael Abou Faour was quoted by Reuters saying: “We received a specific request from the kidnappers in exchange for halting the execution of the soldiers... Matters are going in a positive direction.”

 

After attempts at mediation by a delegation from the Muslim Scholars Association, Qatari envoy Ahmad al-Khatib has continued negotiations, resulting in the current proposal from the Nusra Front.

 

Halabi suggested that the cabinet would be able to meet any of the proposed deals, including those involving the release of detainees from Syrian prisons.

 

“When the General Security was mediating the release of Shiite pilgrims kidnapped by Syrian rebels in Aleppo, it was able to convince Syrian authorities to release female prisoners. The Lebanese cabinet has offered many favors to the Syrian government by handing over Syrian dissidents – which is illegal – so the Syrian government will likely offer a favor in exchange.”

 

Halabi added that if the cabinet accepts one of Nusra’s proposals, the handover of its hostages should take no more than two weeks.

 

More than 20 soldiers and members of the security forces were kidnapped in Arsal during clashes in August, after the arrest of a Nusra leader sparked five days of fighting between Syrian militants and the Lebanese Army. Both the Nusra Font and ISIS currently have Lebanese soldiers in custody. Three have since been killed by their captors; one shot by Nusra and two beheaded by ISIS.

Tires burning in Beirut during a demonstration by the families of Lebanese soldiers captured in Arsal, on October 29, 2014. (AFP Photo/STR)

It would be wise of the cabinet to accept one of the three suggestions, because the families of the kidnapped soldiers will no longer tolerate the government’s reluctance."