BEIRUT: Families of captive servicemen have re-opened roads across Lebanon after receiving assurances that ISIS will not behead the seven hostages it threatened to kill Monday.
“Some calls were made, and the threat has been delayed,” Health Minister Wael Abu Faour told reporters after he visited protesters near Beirut's Saifi neighborhood. “We gained some time. I can only say that we gained some time, nothing more.”
Abu Faour said both the families and Lebanon’s negotiators were contacted with news of the delay.
ISIS had given 4 p.m. as ultimatum for the Lebanese government to revoke death sentences handed down to Islamists in Roumieh Prison, threatening to execute seven captives.
The move created a climate of hysteria among the captives’ families, who escalated their continuous protest and blocked the Charles Helou road, which is the northern entrance of Beirut.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk downplayed ISIS' threat, saying that “the kidnappers’ message is not serious.”
According the Machnouk, the families are being controlled by the kidnappers, but the interior minister said that "they can not be blamed for their actions."
Politicians, however, cannot reduce the sentences of Islamists detained in Roumieh since that authority belongs to the judiciary, Machnouk said.
The jihadist group, which according to the parents holds nine soldiers and policemen, had threatened to kill the majority of its hostages if Lebanon does not revoke the sentences before noon, according to Jawdat Jaber, father of the kidnapped Lance Cpl. Maymoun Jaber.
The Judiciary Council has issued life sentences with hard labor against five Islamist prisoners in Roumieh, including Saudi prisoners, judicial sources said Monday.
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi pointed out that the five convicts were originally sentenced to death, but their sentences were reduced to life in prison with hard labor.
“It was for your sake, the captives’ families, that the judiciary alleviated the sentences from death to life imprisonment,” MP Hadi Hobeish told the protesters Monday, when he visited their protest site with a group of lawmakers.
The sentences, which were issued Friday evening, were not divulged publicly. However, ISIS was informed of the rulings and issued threats to kill the servicemen Sunday, the judicial sources said.
Fear stricken and panicked families of the relatives responded by burning tires at their weeks-old protest site in downtown Beirut, just outside the Grand Serail.
“We know tire burning will not bring our sons back but what else can we do?” one of the protesters told The Daily Star.
Frightened by the possibility that they would see their sons murdered in a few hours, some of the families left with the lawmakers to the Grand Serail in hope of meeting Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
However, many others seemed to have lost hope in the efforts of the authorities, and chose instead to block the Charles Helou highway. A number of lawmakers visited the families at their protest site in Charles Helou, pleading with them to reopen the road.
“If we will watch the videos of the beheadings, let’s at least watch them from the middle of the road to tell the world that we do not have a government,” shouted an angry young man among the protesters who was first to head to the highway.
ISIS and Nusra Front are still holding 27 hostages abducted during clashes with the Army in the border town of Arsal in August. They have executed three and released seven so far, keeping the rest in the outskirts of the northeastern borders.
The fate of the hostages is reportedly no longer in the hands of the ISIS militants in Qalamoun where the captives are held but is being decided by group’s central command, according to daily Al-Akhbar.
The paper suggested in a report published Monday that “the decision to slaughter” the captives is in the hands of ISIS leader and self-proclaimed “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.