BEIRUT: The five Lebanese hostages released by the Nusra Front were being reunited with their families Sunday morning, as concerns grow over the fate of the remaining soldiers and policemen being held by Syrian militants.
Soldiers Ibrahim Shaaban, Ahmad Ghieh and Wael Darwish were reunited with their families in Arsal Sunday morning, according to the state-run National News agency.
The three, along with ISF member Saleh al-Baradei and soldier Mohammad al-Qaderi, were turned over to Sheikh Mustaphan al-Hujeiri by the Nusra Front Saturday evening in the border village of Arsal.
The five appeared on LBC TV Sunday morning, thanking Hujeiri for his efforts to secure their release and expressing gratitude over their safe arrival to Arsal. One of the freed hostages said that they were treated well by their captors and never assaulted or abused.
“The release of the five hostages came without concessions or conditions,” Hujeiri told The Daily Star.
The Arsal local highlighted that the release of the captives “was not a part of the negotiations.”
Hujeiri said Shiite hostages captured by Nusra were in “a more difficult position” than the rest of the hostages, hinting that the militant group had set high conditions for their release.
Earlier Sunday, the Nusra Front warned Hezbollah over the lives of the Shiite hostages.
“Any participation of Hezbollah in battles against us [Nusra] during our liberation of Qalamoun will prompt us to kill our Shiite hostages,” the group said in a statement.
The statement said a military operation in Syria's Qalamoun region was set to begin in a “few days”- during which the hostage death toll could rise as a result of Hezbollah’s intervention.
Meanwhile, there will be delay in the release of Christian hostages held by Nusra, after the hostages were set for release Monday.
“After the burning of Islamic slogans in Ashrafieh, that offer is no longer on the table,” Hujeiri said. “I place the responsibility on people who are committing unfortunate crimes without considering the effect it could have on the kidnapped soldiers.”
Hujeiri refused to disclose the government’s stance over negotiations but said “there is hope” that negotiations to free the remaining hostages would go forward.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said he was working on negotiations to secure the release of two Christian hostages soon.
With the release of the five, all Sunnis, Nusra Front and ISIS are still holding at least 24 soldiers and policemen taken captive during battles with the Lebanese Army at the beginning of August in Arsal.
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 Saturday, ISIS threatened to slaughter the soldiers it is holding 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.
Commenting on pictures of the alleged beheading of Lebanese soldier Ali Sayyed, Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi confirmed that “the picture is him.”
Kahwagi did not confirm the death of Sayyed but insisted the Army was keeping “its options open. “
The commander downplayed rumors of an imminent mass terrorist attack, stressing that the Army had employed the necessary measures to ward off the threat.
“It is said that armed terrorist groups are rallying in thousands to launch an attack,” Kahwagi told Al-Mustaqbal newspaper Saturday. “We welcome them, [because] we have taken all precautionary measures.”
Families of the remaining hostages are blocking the Labweh road Sunday in protest.