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Machnouk dismisses threats to kill hostages

File - Lebanon's Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk announces new arrangements facilitating the return of Syrian refugees who have not paid the legal fines for their stay in Lebanon. (Reuters)

BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk Monday dismissed threats by Islamist militants to kill the 29 Lebanese security personnel they are holding, while reiterating the government’s refusal to budge on the captors’ demands.

“I don’t think that the [militants’] threat to [kill] the military personnel is serious, despite my feeling of the pain felt by their parents,” Machnouk told MTV station. “I think the threat is not serious because they will not give up the only card they have.”

He added that the government would not budge on the militants’ demands, stressing that “no compromise would be made with terrorists.”

Machnouk denied that Hezbollah had intervened in the ongoing negotiations to secure the release of the 29 captives. He also said that he expected the militants’ statements to get harsher day by day.

Machnouk spoke after meeting with a delegation of family members of the abducted military personnel at his office, where they were briefed on the negotiations by the minister and General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim to secure the release of their loved ones.

A delegation member told MTV that mediation attempts were being carried out by more than one party, and thanked Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey for their efforts. The hostages’ relatives also thanked Ibrahim for his efforts.

A delegation member said they expected important developments over the case of the kidnapped soldiers within 10 days.

The delegation called the Committee of Muslim Scholars to resume their mediation in the case.

Spokesman for the committee Sheikh Adnan Amama told The Daily Star that the Muslim Scholars would not resume their talks with the militants because there had been “no new developments or new windows for negotiation.”

“The committee was forced to quit [its mediation] because of the government’s refusal to compromise on the one hand, and the militants’ impatience with the government on the other,” Amama said. “The government has yet to take a decision that could move negotiations forward.”

Earlier Monday, Syria’s Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front threatened to use force to free Islamist militants held at Roumieh prison.

The release of Islamist detainees at Roumieh prison is a key demand of the militants holding the 29 Lebanese security personnel.

“We may resort to the military option to release our detained [militants] from Lebanese prisons,” a prominent Nusra commander told the Turkish Anadolu News Agency.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. The hostages were taken after five days of ferocious clashes between the Lebanese Army and militants in the northeastern border town of Arsal earlier this month.

“We call for honest negotiations because it is the only solution,” said the Nusra commander. He claimed that Hezbollah was preparing to launch an attack on the Syrian region of Qalamoun to free the captives. He warned that such a move would lead to the killing of the captive soldiers.

The commander said that the military hostages had been in Arsal up until the militants withdrew to the outskirts of the border region following the cease-fire agreement.

However, a security source told The Daily Star that both the captives and militants were still inside Arsal, refuting reports that the hostages had been taken to the town’s mountainous outskirts or neighboring hills.

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.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil reiterated the government’s “no-compromise” policy with the militants.

“Since day one we have opposed the notion of negotiating with terrorists,” Bassil said, stressing that the situation could only be resolved through decisive security operations.

Amama, the committee spokesperson, said the militants 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 told The Daily Star.

Speaking about the militants’ reported demands for the release of Islamist detainees held at Roumieh prison, Amama said that the militants hadn’t issued names.

Ibrahim recently visited Qatar and Turkey in a move that could reflect foreign assistance over the case of the kidnapped soldiers. However, security sources denied that Ibrahim’s visits were linked to the negotiations with the militants.

His travels are routine visits characteristic of his role as director-general of General Security, a source told The Daily Star.

The source denied reports that Ibrahim was officially involved in negotiations to secure the release of the military captives.

Ibrahim has yet to be appointed and his involvement in negotiations would require an official political decision by the Cabinet, the source said.

Meanwhile, officials in Arsal denied reports that militants with hit lists had returned to the town.

Future Movement representative Bakr Hujeiri denied any militants had returned to the town. Instead, he said that a number of gunmen “sought to take revenge and settle accounts” over an old feud between a family from Arsal and Syrian refugees in which people from both sides had been killed.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 26, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk Monday dismissed threats by Islamist militants to kill the 29 Lebanese security personnel they are holding, while reiterating the government's refusal to budge on the captors' demands.

Machnouk denied that Hezbollah had intervened in the ongoing negotiations to secure the release of the 29 captives.

Earlier Monday, Syria's Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front threatened to use force to free Islamist militants held at Roumieh prison.

The release of Islamist detainees at Roumieh prison is a key demand of the militants holding the 29 Lebanese security personnel.

The hostages were taken after five days of ferocious clashes between the Lebanese Army and militants in the northeastern border town of Arsal earlier this month.

However, a security source told The Daily Star that both the captives and militants were still inside Arsal, refuting reports that the hostages had been taken to the town's mountainous outskirts or neighboring hills.

Speaking about the militants' reported demands for the release of Islamist detainees held at Roumieh prison, Amama said that the militants hadn't issued names.

However, security sources denied that Ibrahim's visits were linked to the negotiations with the militants.


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