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NOW

Kidnapped servicemen’s
families take to the streets

Protesters blocked a main thoroughfare leading into Downtown Beirut.

Thursday protest. (image via nna.gov.lb)

BEIRUT – The relatives of the servicemen kidnapped by Islamist militants in the Lebanese border town of Arsal last year shut down two major roads in their latest protest as the cabinet met Thursday.

 

The coordinated demonstrations began Thursday morning when the relatives cut off the highway south from Beirut outside the coastal town of Dammour with burning tires at its entrance up to mountainous Chouf region.

 

Their road block caused choking traffic both south and north of Dammour during the morning rush hour, after which the protesters opened the highway before midday, Lebanon’s state National News Agency reported.

 

At the same time, another group of relatives shut down the road leading into Downtown Beirut near the Grand Serail, where Premier Tammam Salam was slated to open a cabinet session amid the political deadlock paralyzing the country’s government.

 

The cutting off of the Saifi road with burning tires quickly resulted in traffic jams in eastern Beirut’s Ashrafieh quarter, while police rerouted cars traveling on the main coastal highway leading westward into the center of the capital.

 

The relatives lifted their roadblock in Downtown Beirut at 2:00 p.m., shortly after the cabinet session ended its meeting, without taking any decision on the issue of the kidnapped Lebanese servicemen, who are currently being held hostage by the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS in the rugged mountain region straddling Lebanon’s northeastern border with Syria.

 

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

 

The Lebanese state has since been involved in complicated negotiations brokered by a number of intermediaries in a bid to release the servicemen, however there has been little progress on the issue while Nusra and ISIS have issued numerous threats over the fate of their hostages, most recently after Hezbollah began a widescale offensive against militants in the Qalamoun border region.

 

“Does the state want us to become troublemakers?”

 

Protesters cut off the Saifi road leading into Downtown Beirut on Thursday. (YouTube/Almada)

 

Lebanese daily As-Safir reported Thursday morning that the servicemen’s families said they had recieved “confirmed information” indicating that there was no progress on the issue of their kidnapped relatives and that “the promises that had been made to them were ‘lies’.”

 

“Does the state want us to become troublemakers or parties like [the ones] that have kidnapped [people] in the past to [secure] their relatives freedom?” asked Hussein Jaber, the uncle of captive serviceman Maymoun Jaber.

 

“The families said their [action] would not be limited to blocking roads in the future,” the As-Safir report added.

 

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the captive servicemen’s families, Hussein Youssef spoke to Al-Hayat on the demonstrations.

 

He described the protests as a “cautionary escalation” and called on Lebanese officials involved in the negotiation process to provide updates on the “calls that took place between ISIS and Lebanon two weeks ago.”

 

Another servicemen’s relative, Nizam al-Maghit, told LBC the action was a message to the government, demanding that the kidnapped servicemen dossier be brought up in the cabinet.

 

The cabinet, however, did not bring up the issue as ministers squabbled over other matters amid the government’s political paralysis regarding appointing new leaders in the Lebanese Armed Forces and other security institutions as current officers’ terms come to an end.

 

Following the inconclusive government session, a spokesperson for the families of the kidnapped servicemen said they would hold Premier Tammam Salam responsible for any harm inflicted on their relatives. 

Relatives of kidnapped servicemen block the Saifi Road leading into Downtown Beirut. (image via nna.gov.lb)

The families said their [action] would not be limited to blocking roads in the future.