BEIRUT: The Committee of Muslim Scholars hinted Thursday that it might suspend its mediation in the ongoing negotiations to free missing military and security personnel believed held by jihadists, pending the government’s response to the captors’ demands.
Committee member Adnan Amama said the scholars were waiting for Lebanon’s official answer to the demands put forward by the militants from Syria’s Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) to free the captives seized during clashes in the border town of Arsal in early August.
“We are still awaiting an answer from the government. Depending on the response, we will decide whether to continue with our mediation initiative or suspend it, thus opening the way for other possible parties to intervene,” Amama told The Daily Star.
The groups have delivered a list of their demands, reportedly including the release of Islamist prisoners from Lebanon's Roumieh prison and improved treatment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. However, LBCI reported Wednesday that the gunmen would release the men if Hezbollah withdrew from Syria.
Nineteen Lebanese Army soldiers and 14 members of the Internal Security Forces went missing after the Arsal clashes earlier this month and are believed to be held by the Nusra Front and ISIS.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said in remarks published Thursday that Lebanon was working to free the kidnapped soldiers and policemen without the help of a foreign mediator.
"Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim is not heading negotiations or contacts with any regional or Arab country for the case of the kidnapped soldiers,” Machnouk told Al-Akhbar newspaper. "Such a task would require ... a government decision.”
The minister refused to comment on the ongoing negotiations to free the soldiers and security forces who were kidnapped by militants during the Arsal clashes that pitted Lebanese Army troops against gunmen from Syria.
Machnouk’s remarks refute those of Kataeb Party head Amine Gemayel, who said last week that Lebanon had requested the help of some Arab countries but that the latter refused, and other media reports.
In cooperation with Ibrahim, Qatar played a crucial role in last year's release of nine Lebanese who were taken hostage by Syrian rebel groups in Syria. The men were released a year and a half after their abduction.
Qatar and Lebanon also mediated the release of 13 nuns and their three housemaids taken hostage in the Syrian village of Maaloula in a swap deal for 150 mostly female inmates in Syria prisons.