HERMEL/BEIRUT: Negotiations continue in Syria between the regime and rebels to release thirteen nuns who were kidnapped last year from the historic Christian town of Maaloula, with local and international media reporting their imminent release.
Arsal Mayor Ali Hujeiri told The Daily Star that a delegate he had dispatched to Syria to follow up on the case informed him that the current negotiations were between the Syrian government and rebel groups.
The mayor, who has used Arsal’s close ties with the armed opposition to assist in the negotiations, expressed hope that the nuns would be freed soon barring last-minute issues.
Arsal is located in the northeast Bekaa Valley bordering Syria’s Qalamoun region, where rebel groups and regime forces are battling for control.
President Michel Sleiman followed up the possible release with Lebanon’s General Security Chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim who was tasked by the government with handling the kidnapping case, the National News Agency reported.
Last year, Ibrahim played a vital role in mediating the release of nine Lebanese hostages between the regime and the opposition.
Meanwhile, the Head of the Qatari Intelligence, Saadeh el-Kbeisi, arrived at the Rafik Hariri International Airport to reportedly follow up on the case.
Quoting Arab media sources, a pro-regime Syrian news agency said a deal has been reached to release the nuns who, it said, were captured by the Nusra Front, a radical Ismalist group fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Qatar has become a vital player in the ongoing negotiations to release the nuns along with Ibrahim who was successful in securing the release of 9 Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria last year.
Al-Mayadeen television reported that efforts were underway to prepare a ceremony in Damascus to welcome back the freed nuns.
Since their abduction in December, the nuns have appeared in two videos carried by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news channel.
News of their possible release comes days after Agence France Presses reported that negotiators have lost contact with a group of nuns
"It is very likely that they have been transferred to the region between Yabrud and the Lebanese border" nearby, a source told AFP.
The nuns were reported missing last year after rebel forces, including radical Islamist groups, seized the town, which is located on the edge of the rugged Qalamoun region, about 60 kilometers northeast of the capital.
Maaloula’s historic value lies in its ancient Christian presence and the fact that some of its residents still speak Aramaic, the language Jesus Christ is believed to have spoken.