BEIRUT: Jihadists released four soldiers and one policeman they had captured during bloody clashes with the Lebanese Army in northeast Lebanon earlier in August, the state-run National News Agency reported Saturday night.
The NNA said the released soldiers and policeman were handed over to Sheikh Mustaphan al-Hujeiri in the border village of Arsal. In turn, Hujeiri is expected to hand the five troops to Lebanese security forces.
The NNA identified the five men as Ahmad Ghieh, Ibrahim Shaaban, Saleh al-Baradei, Mohammad al-Qaderi and Wael Darwish. All five belonged to the Sunni sect.
The Nusra Front and ISIS are holding 29 soldiers and ISF members captive in remote areas on the border between Lebanon and Syria.
The Turkish Anadolu News Agency reported that a leader of what it dubbed as the "Lebanese branch of the militant movement Nusra Front said his group released five Lebanese Sunni troops, out of a total of 18 troops, it kidnapped during clashes with the Lebanese Army .
"We have handed the five troops to one of the notables of Arsal and they should be released tomorrow morning," the leader told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.
The Al-Nusra Front leader said the five freed troops would spend the night at a mosque in Arsal and that they would be released on Sunday morning.
He added that he and fellow Nusra members did not get ransom to release the troops.
"Our fight is not against Sunnis," the leader said.
He did not, however, mention any further details about the release of other troops and denied intentions to release Christian troops.
The gunmen from ISIS and Nusra Front are demanding the release of Islamist detainees in Roumieh Prison, a request the government has implicitly rejected.
In a video posted on YouTube, ISIS threatened to slaughter the soldiers unless the Lebanese government acted to release Islamist detainees, a day after a man, claiming to be a member of the radical group, posted a picture showing the alleged beheading of a soldier.
Ali al-Sayyed, the soldier who ISIS allegedly beheaded, is from Fneydeq where residents have been blocking roads for two days in response to his reported killing.
The Lebanese Army has said it was investigating the claim.
Earlier on Saturday, families of the captured soldiers took their grievances onto Lebanon's streets blocking roads and burning tires while demanding the government find a speedy solution to their crisis.
“Just as I allowed the Army to take my son, they should return him to me in one piece,” the mother of soldier Ali Masri said, choking on her words.
Surrounded by fathers, mothers and children of other captured soldiers and police officers, the veiled mother lashed out against the government, questioning what would officials had done if “they were one of their own.”
Twin girls standing in the scorching hot sun also appealed to the militants to release their father while others rushed to help a fainting mother.
“We only blocked one road today; we will block all roads tomorrow. Do not test us,” a grey-haired man yelled at cameras, as tires burnt behind him.
The families, mostly the parents of the soldiers, were only responding to their sons’ call to block roads in a bid to pressure their government to respond to the captives’ demands.
In the early hours of the morning, a group of the relatives used burning tires to block the highway linking Labweh to Arsal in the northern Bekaa.
Minutes later, residents of Fneydeq had parked their vehicles in the middle of a two-way road near Mhammara Bridge in the northern region of Akkar.
Members of the Internal Security Forces intervened and reopened the road before residents were able to pitch a tent on the Abdeh Highway in Akkar.
Ali Masri's family also blocked both lanes of a main highway in Baalbek, east Lebanon, in protest of his continued detention.