ARSAL, Lebanon: Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi Tuesday assured families of missing soldiers believed to be held by Syria militants who battled the Army in Arsal, that the military command would spare no effort to secure their quick release, an Army statement said.
“The issue of the captured personnel is the Army’s top priority at this time. The command will not bargain over the blood of its martyrs and wounded or the freedom of its missing soldiers,” Kahwagi told a delegation representing the families of missing personnel who visited him at the Defense Ministry in Yarze.
Kahwagi said the command “will resort to all available means to ensure their release without delay.”
“The Army is ready for all possibilities in order to secure the safety of its missing personnel, and to bring them back to their families and their institution,” Kahwagi added.
The Army commander briefed the families on the latest developments with regard to the issue, the statement said.
Earlier Tuesday the Army command confirmed the death of a soldier who was killed in the fighting against jihadist militants in Arsal over a week ago. He was among 19 military casualties.
An Army statement said that “Cpl. Suheil Mohammad Dannawi, born in 1987 in Tripoli, north Lebanon, was killed in the battle waged by the Army against terrorist groups in the area of Arsal.”
There was no specific information about the belated death announcement, notably whether the deceased succumbed to injuries or if he was among missing personnel.
The Army had removed the bodies of seven militants from the outskirts of Arsal earlier Tuesday, days after the takfiri fighters withdrew from the border town in east Lebanon following heavy clashes with the Army, the state-run National News Agency reported.
The bodies, believed to belong to militants from Syria’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), were found near a quarry at the western entrance of Arsal.
At least 60 militants were killed, in addition to 19 troops and over 15 civilians in five days of clashes triggered by the arrest of a Syrian militant, Imad Ahmad Jomaa, on Aug. 2.
Over 20 security personnel, including 10 troops, are still missing, believed to be held hostage by the militants who retreated into rugged territory to the east of Arsal under an agreement brokered by the Muslim Scholars Committee.
Families of missing soldiers and security forces Tuesday protested against their kidnapping and expressed full solidarity with the Army in its fight against terrorism.
In Halba, north Lebanon, the family of missing soldier Ibrahim Mostapha Shaaban staged a sit-in in the town’s square calling for the immediate and safe release of the Army hostages.
A similar protest was held by the family of missing recruit Wael Darwiche in the village of Shhim.
In the meantime, a parliamentary delegation from the Future bloc visited Arsal to take stock of the damage inflicted on properties and public buildings, in preparation for a reconstruction plan to be funded by Future Movement leader Saad Hariri.
Hariri, who has returned to Lebanon after over three years of self-exile last week, has donated $15 million for Arsal’s reconstruction.