BEIRUT: The government received a list of demands Monday from militants who abducted members of the Army and Internal Security Forces (ISF) during five-day clashes in the border town of Arsal.
“The government has officially received a list of demands from the captors of the military [and security] personnel, as well as a video recording of them,” Sheikh Adnan Amama, a member of the Muslim Scholars Committee, told The Daily Star.
“Government officials have requested that all negotiation demands be kept from the media,” he said after meeting with the government delegation in charge of conducting indirect negotiations with the militants.
Amama said that officials requested the media blackout because they did not want to reveal the nature of concessions being made in return for the captured ISF personnel and Army soldiers.
Nevertheless, Amama reiterated demands that were previously articulated by the militants, including protection and humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees in Arsal, as well as easing security measures around refugee camps.
Camps in Arsal were heavily damaged, some reduced to ashes, after being burned to the ground during the clashes, forcing many Syrians to flee into the town.
But strict security measures were criticized by refugees long before the clashes erupted, with some claiming back in June that they had been arbitrarily arrested and accused of terrorist activity.
The Syrian go-between in the contacts between the militants and the Muslim Scholars Committee, Ahmad al-Qusair, told The Daily Star last week that the release of innocent Islamist inmates in Roumieh figured prominently in the demands. He said that negotiations had come to an impasse because the government considered the militants’ demands as coming at too high a cost.
“Their demands are still the same,” Qusair told The Daily Star Monday, after the announcement that the list, the contents of which he is not permitted to disclose, had been delivered to the government.
“The biggest challenge today is the lack of commitment from the government side,” he said. “The Lebanese government and some media outlets are only looking at the issue as a confrontation between the Army and terrorists, forgetting that there is a humanitarian aspect at hand.”
“First the militants agreed to withdraw, then they freed two captured ISF members as a goodwill gesture, but the Lebanese government hasn’t done anything in return so far,” he said.
Policemen Medyan Hasan and Kamal Misilmani were freed Sunday, as the Army arrested 12 Syrians allegedly involved in the clashes.
Amama said that the militants had demanded that security forces stop treating all Syrian refugees in Arsal as though they were militants.
Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria are still holding 11 soldiers, as well as the body of a deceased soldier. The Nusra Front still holds 15 ISF captives and three Army hostages, Amama said. Nusra released two ISF soldiers Sunday.
“They did not want to release two Army members because then they would only have had one Army soldier left during the [upcoming] negotiations,” Amama said. “The coming days will see the release of more security personnel.”
A total of 38 members of Lebanon’s security forces were taken captive by militants who overran Arsal. Several have been released since the beginning of negotiations.
Arsal resident Sheikh Mustafa Hujeiri, known by his nom de guerre Abu Taqiyeh, confirmed Sunday that the soldiers and policemen were alive.
Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said the Lebanese government and the U.N. were continuing to treat wounded Syrian refugees in Arsal. Continued treatment is one of the demands made by the militants in return for freeing the kidnapped.