BEIRUT: The Nusra Front may use force to free militants detained in Lebanon’s prisons, a prominent Nusra commander told the Turkish Anadolu News Agency Monday.
“We may resort to the military option to release our detained [militants] from Lebanese prisons,” he said.
The Nusra Front is believed to be holding three soldiers and 15 policemen, out of the total 29 security personnel and troops held captive by militant groups after the eruption of clashes in the northeastern border town of Arsal.
“We call for honest negotiations because it is the only solution,” said the Nusra Front commander, referring to negotiations with the Lebanese government over the release of abducted security personnel being held by the militant group.
According to the Nusra commander, Hezbollah is preparing to launch an attack on the Syrian region of Qalamoun and is trying to “disrupt negotiations" by forcefully reclaiming the captives.
He warned that such a move would prompt the killing of the captive soldiers.
The Muslim Scholars Committee had been mediating between the militant groups and the Lebanese government in an effort to secure the release of detained security personnel before announcing the suspension of its role Friday.
The militant’s demands remain ambiguous after the government pushed for a media blackout over negotiations.
The Syrian go-between for 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 featured 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 of a cost.
The government’s official stand over the militant dossier has been a “no-compromise” policy.
Several officials, including Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, repeatedly rejected the idea of offering concessions in return for the abducted soldiers, stressing that the release of militants from Roumieh prison was not on the table.
However Sheikh Adnan Amama, spokesperson for the Muslim Scholar’s Committee, told The Daily Star that “the militants we were negotiating with rejected the idea of military action.”
“They didn’t want to be embroiled in a hostile war in Lebanon when their fight was in Syria,” Amama said.
Speaking on the militants’ reported demands for the release of Islamist detainees held at Roumieh prison, Amama said they had yet to reach the stage of listing exact names.
The suspension of the Muslim Scholar’s mediation efforts reflected the challenges in negotiating between the committee and the government; it was unclear which party, local or external, would resume efforts.
The suspension of the committee’s role also appeared to be aimed at giving foreign actors a chance to mediate with Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants entrenched in Arsal’s outskirts.
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.