BEIRUT: Talks to free Lebanese soldiers and policemen are faltering due to the difficulty communicating with the militants believed to be holding them, Future MP Jamal Jarrah said Friday.
In an interview with Beirut’s Voice al-Mada Radio, Jarrah said it had become extremely difficult to communicate with the captors because of the geography of the area in which they are located after their withdrawal from Arsal.
“Communications are almost cut off, but there are several attempts to re-establish contacts with the gunmen or with those negotiating with the gunmen in order to find a solution to the issue of the captured soldiers,” Jarrah said.
Jarrah denied allegations that Saudi Arabia could be playing any role in the negotiations or having contacts with the militants.
“The negotiations are being conducted through the Committee of Muslim Scholars and there is no intention to change that,” Jarrah said.
On a possible Qatari mediation, Jarrah pointed out that Prime Minister Tammam Salam was informed by the Qatari Emir that his country had severed contacts with the Syrian rebels, especially from Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), a long time ago.
Pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat newspaper said Friday that the missing soldiers were in good health and being treated properly, citing a Syrian intermediate involved in negotiations to free them.
The paper quoted a source in the Committee of Muslim Scholars as saying that “the Syrian go-between had visited the captives and checked that they are fine, receiving good food and sleeping properly, and that there is guarantee that they be unharmed.”
The source, however, did not say how many soldiers were visited.
Some 19 Army troops in addition to 17 ISF personnel are missing and believed to be held by militants from Syria’s Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who launched an incursion into Arsal Aug. 2, taking over the town and withdrawing five days later under a cease-fire agreement.
The Lebanese authorities are keeping tight lips about the negotiations. The militants have allegedly asked to trade the captives for Islamist prisoners, including militant commander Imad Jomaa whose arrest had triggered the Arsal clashes.
Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr Thursday pressed ahead with charges against 43 jihadists, including Jomaa, over the battles, accusing them of carrying out terrorist acts, attacking the Army, and killing and kidnapping soldiers and policemen, charges for which they may face the death penalty if convicted.
Al-Hayat quoted “informed sources” as saying that the government was keen on maintaining total secrecy and a news blackout on information about the negotiations conducted by the Committee Muslim Scholars.
“The authorities are trying to avoid news leakages that might undermine negotiations and jeopardize the safety of the captives,” the sources said in reference to the disclosure of the video depicting seven of the captives that was relayed to Prime Minister Tammam Salam through the Committee.