BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam reassured relatives of kidnapped soldiers and police officers Saturday that the state was exerting all efforts possible to secure the release of their loved ones.
"[I am] exhausting all means to secure the release of the captured soldiers and member of the Internal Security Forces,” Salam told relatives of the captured personnel during a meeting at the Grand Serail.
"The state will not abandon them or forget about them."
The case of the captured security personnel “will not sleep,” Tammam said, asking them remain patient and be aware of attempts to take advantage of their tragedy.
The PM said the negotiations should remain secret to ensure their success.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and head of General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim later joined the meeting. Ibrahim oversaw negotiations that led to the release of 11 Lebanese captured by Syrian rebels as well as Syrian nuns in Syria.
Following five days of heavy fighting between the Army and militants from Syria in the border town of Arsal, the two agreed to a cease-fire that saw the withdrawal of the gunmen, the entry of aid of into Arsal and transport of wounded civilians out of the town.
The truce that ended the clashes also stipulated the release of captured soldiers and ISF members, but the militants failed to implement the agreement, using the hostages as a bargaining chip. Nineteen soldiers and 17 ISF members remain missing, and are believed to be held by the militants, who were from ISIS and Nusra Front.
“What happened in Arsal almost placed the country at risk because it came at a difficult circumstance in the region and unstable domestic situation that the political forces have not yet resolved,” Salam said.
“No one expected that ISIS gunmen and others would do what they did this quickly and in such brutality against Arsal, the Army and security forces."
"Things would have ended differently if it wasn't for the political decision to face the Army in its confrontation.”
The Committee of Muslim Scholars, the party that mediated the cease-fire, has said negotiations are difficult because the hostages were taken by ISIS and Nusra Front, two groups with different demands.