BEIRUT: Amid a wave of skepticism and frustration from the families of 25 Lebanese hostages, a rumored mediator who claims that he is negotiating with ISIS announced Tuesday the demands allegedly relayed to him by the jihadi group.
Sheikh Wissam al-Masri, the mediator who says he is negotiating for the release of the captive servicemen, announced three demands ISIS had allegedly relayed to him during a meeting on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal earlier Tuesday.
In a press conference held in Riad al-Solh Square Tuesday, Masri said that ISIS is calling for a weapons-free safe zone for Syrian refugees, stretching from the border region of Wadi Hmeid, down through the outskirts of the town of Tfeil and reaching back up to the northeastern town of Arsal.
The second alleged demand includes the formation of a civilian hospital for refugees and those wounded in battles with Hezbollah.
The third demand calls for the release of all Muslim female detainees who were imprisoned in Lebanese jails on charges related to the Syrian crisis.
The sheikh did not clarify what charges exactly and whether ISIS is simply demanding the release of all Muslim, Syrian female detainees.
Mid-way through the conference, Masri was relayed a message by a member of his entourage who had informed him that ISIS had allegedly announced its willingness to halt killings and threats against the soldiers under some conditions.
One of the conditions is for the Lebanese Army to open the road to Wadi Hmeid, Masri told The Daily Star after the press conference, noting that ISIS is not calling for the removal of checkpoints, but is demanding that the Lebanese Army opens the road from Wadi Hmeid to the outskirts. The sheikh also warned that the vow would not be upheld if any measures are taken against Arsal.
In another condition to the pledge, Masri said that ISIS is demanding the release of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi‘s ex-wife Saja al-Dulaimi, and Ola al-Oqaily, the wife of ISIS commander Anas Sharkas.
The vow to halt executions and threats is also contingent on the continuation of negotiations, Masri said, warning that any "wrongdoings" in the case could lead to the killings of more soldiers.
The families of the captives, however, were unsettled by the absence of official confirmation from ISIS that Masri was tasked by the group.
“I told him that I want an official document stamped by ISIS that indicates that they have appointed him for negotiations,” Omar Haidar, a spokesperson for the families, said.
The spokesperson told The Daily Star that he got confirmation from unidentified sources that Masri had in fact crossed the checkpoint and went to the outskirts.
“But that doesn’t mean he met with the mediators. We don’t really know who he met,” Haidar said, while expressing his frustration over the state of confusion that has reigned over the case.
Haidar also opposed the demand that Lebanon create safe zones for Syrian refugees.
“We reject this unacceptable demand,” Haidar said. ”This means even the Army can’t enter this area.”
Haidar said that the last time he was contacted by the captors, they had announced the appointment of Arsal Deputy Mayor Ahmad Fliti, who was endorsed by Health Minister Wael Abu Faour and several other figures to mediate talks with ISIS.
“I just called Fliti before the conference and he was shocked that Masri went to the outskirts,” the spokesperson said, quoting the deputy mayor as saying that he had not received any information from ISIS concerning Masri.
The spokesperson said that before the press conference, Masri also claimed that he is talking to the Nusra Front in an effort to set up a meeting soon.