Arsal sheikh defends unofficial
negotiations with hostage takers

BEIRUT - Arsal sheikh Mustafa Hojeiri denounced criticism of his involvement in negotiations with the captors of the army and security personnel taken hostage in the town last month, and said a recent visit he organized between a hostage and his family had given them hope.


“There is a family that thought their son was dead. I took them to sit with him,” Hojeiri told Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar in an interview published on Wednesday.


“Where is the crime I have committed if I freed hostage soldiers?” asked the Arsal Sheikh, who several freed hostages have said was instrumental in securing their release.


He added that negotiations for the release of some of the hostages, held by supporters of jihadist group the Islamic State (IS), were proving particularly difficult, as the captors have refused to accept him as a mediator.


“If the soldiers were with the Free Syrian Army I would have brought you all of them.”


“The Qatari delegate suggested that I act as a mediator in the negotiations between him and IS, but the group’s leadership refused, as it considers me unfavorable.”


Hojeiri also denied knowing where the hostages were held, saying that “the kidnappers are the ones who say where I have to go.”


On Tuesday, Hojeiri said that he took the family of kidnapped soldier George Khoury to see him in the mountains outside the town.


The visit came one day after members of Khoury’s family held a demonstration demanding his release in his hometown of Qobaiyat in North Lebanon.


The captive soldier is one of at least 30 army and security personnel taken hostage after jihadist groups crossed into Arsal from Syria and battled with the army for five days in early August.

Where is the crime I have committed if I freed hostage soldiers?