BEIRUT: Two members of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) captured by extremist militants during fighting in Arsal earlier this month were freed Sunday in a sign of “goodwill,” as the Lebanese Army arrested 12 Syrians who were allegedly involved in the battles.
The released policemen, Medyan Hasan and Kamal Misilmani, were received by the Army Intelligence in the Bekaa Valley, which in turn transferred them to the police station in Arsal.
The ISF members were kidnapped along with several Army soldiers by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and the Nusra Front, who took over Arsal and clashed with the Army for five days before withdrawing under a cease-fire agreement.
The 12 Syrians were detained for trying to enter Arsal illegally through an eastern border crossing on the northeastern village’s outskirts, a security source told The Daily Star.
The suspects were not armed but were likely to be militants, the source said.
When contacted by The Daily Star, a military source neither confirmed nor denied the arrest, refusing to disclose more details.
Meanwhile, Saudi Ambassador Ali Saeed Asiri vowed Sunday that his country would not allow ISIS to tamper with Lebanon’s security, saying stability was “a red line.”
“We will not allow ISIS and other groups to impose their decisions on the domestic scene,” Asiri told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. “Lebanon’s security and stability should be a red line.”
The envoy urged Muslim youths lured by extremism to embrace moderation, saying “weapons and force” were not the solution.
He also hoped that newly elected Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian would lead efforts to promote “moderate religious rhetoric.”
Asiri hoped that vicious fighting between the Army and jihadists in Arsal would not spread to another Lebanese region, saying unity and cohesion among the people of Lebanon were necessary during these difficult times.
Asiri explained that unlike the previous Saudi donation of $3 billion to the Army, which was governed by agreements between Lebanon and France and will materialize over several stages, the recent grant of $1 billion is meant to swiftly buttress the capabilities of the Army through contact between the Lebanese side, represented by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Saudi Arabia. “The priority today is to preserve Lebanon’s stability, keep channels open with all groups and work toward the implementation of [grants] for the Army,” he said.Asiri said the decision to extend his tenure in Lebanon was made by Saudi King Abdullah in light of recent turmoil.
Sheikh Adnan Amama, from the Muslim Scholars Committee, the group that brokered the release of the two ISF members, said that the arrest of the 12 Syrians by the Army could complicate efforts to free the other hostages.
“The militants may say: You see how the Army and the government reacted after we released two of their members,” Amama told The Daily Star.
The release of the policemen came after officials had pressed for a sign of goodwill on the part of the captors before pressing forward with negotiations.
“Lebanese officials requested the release of as many captives as possible,” Amama said. “The release is meant to show a commitment to negotiations between the two parties.”
According to Amama, the militants are requesting better treatment for refugees and Arsal residents who were wounded during the clashes. Political and security officials have promised to improve the humanitarian situation in Arsal, vowing to normalize the situation in the border region, he added.
Amama said that easing harsh security measures against refugees and Arsal residents was another condition the militants had placed on the hostages’ release.
The Muslim Scholars Committee mediated the cease-fire that ended five days of clashes in Arsal and is now overseeing talks to release the captured.
The release of the ISF members was without conditions, according to Arsal resident Sheikh Mustafa al-Hujeiri, who facilitated the operation. “We are continuing efforts to release the largest possible number of security forces, and the Muslim Scholars Committee will not fail in this regard,” he said.
Hujeiri, known by his nom de guerre Abu Taqiyeh, confirmed that all the soldiers and policemen were alive.
“I want to thank Sheikh Mustafa Hujeiri and the Muslim Scholars Committee; had it not been for him, we would have never been released,” one of the freed policemen told MTV in exclusive comments.
Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan, from Hezbollah, warned that “the danger to Lebanon still exists as long as there are kidnapped members of the security forces.”