Lebanon News

Nusra hands Arsal mediator list of names for prisoner swap

A general view of the town of Arsal (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: The Nusra Front said Saturday that it has handed a negotiator a list of names of prisoners it wants released in exchange for the 27 Lebanese soldiers and policemen being held by the jihadists on Lebanon's northeast border.

On its Twitter account, the extremist group said its representatives met with Qatari-appointed mediator, Syrian Ahmad al-Khatib, on Thursday and Saturday to discuss negotiations to end the 3-month hostage crisis.

The Lebanese government has agreed in principle on a swap deal, Nusra said, according to a proposal handed to them by the mediator.

After the meeting Thursday between Khatib and Nusra, the mediator held talks with the Lebanese side tasked with following up on the case.

He the returned to meet with the jihadists on Saturday and presented them with "an agreement in principle on releasing Lebanese and Syrian prisoners in Lebanon and Syria,” Nusra said.

Nusra said it suggested three proposals that would ultimately resolve the case: the release of 10 prisoners in Lebanese prisons for each captive; the release of seven Lebanese and 30 women held in Syrian prisons for each captive; or the release five Lebanese and 50 female detainees in exchange for the release of a hostage.

“In case one of these proposals is adopted, the swap deal for the Syrian detainees will take place in either Turkey or Qatar, the swap for the Lebanese prisoners will take place on the outskirts of Arsal or wherever the [negotiator] demands,” the group said in its statement.

The statement added that it had handed to Khatib a list of names of prisoners they want released in exchange for the captive servicemen.

The negotiations are the first serious sign of progress to free the servicemen since their capture during a five-day battle between the Lebanese Army and militants from Nusra and ISIS three months ago.

ISIS has executed two soldiers while Nusra has killed one and has recently threatened to kill another in a bid to pressure the Lebanese Army to ease its measures on Tripoli, north Lebanon.

Sources told The Daily Star that the mediator had brought shipments of food with him when he first traveled to the outskirts Thursday.

Local media reports Saturday said the aid was a sign of good will by Qatar.

The militants have long demanded the release of Islamist detainees in Roumieh Prison held on terror charges without trial for the release of soldiers. But Prime Minister Tammam Salam has publicly rejected a swap deal to end the hostage ordeal.

A delegation from the Muslim Scholars Committee earlier Saturday met with the relatives of the soldiers outside the Grand Serail and later told reporters that they would resume negotiations only if the Lebanese government tasked them with such a case.





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