BEIRUT: Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi Tuesday once again reassured the relatives of missing soldiers that the military’s main concern was to secure their safe return.
During his meeting with families of missing soldiers, Kahwagi said that “the case of the missing soldiers is the main priority of the Army's leadership and will remain at the forefront of our concerns until we achieve justice and return them to their families as soon as possible.”
He also commended the courage of the martyrs and their exceptional heroism.
“Their blood protected Lebanon from division and collapse, and prevented the fire of strife from reaching the heart of the country,” he said.
Militants are still holding 19 soldiers and 14 members of the Internal Security Forces, but have released six security personnel as a sign of goodwill since the clashes ended.
Beginning Aug. 2, the Army engaged in fierce clashes with militants from Syria for five days, resulting in the deaths of dozens of gunmen and at least 19 soldiers. The fighting in the border region of Arsal was triggered by the Army’s arrest of a prominent Syrian opposition commander who had recently joined ISIS.
According to the Committee of Muslim Scholars, who had mediated the cease-fire and was negotiating the release of the soldiers, the government received a list of demands Monday from the militants. The demands included protection and humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees in Arsal, as well as easing security measures around refugee camps.
The Syrian go-between in the contacts between the militants and the 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.