BEIRUT: Viewing the captive Lebanese soldiers through the lens of their sectarian affiliations is a trap, Prime Minister Tammam Salam warned Monday, as the government works to free the remaining captives being held by extremist groups from Syria.
“In whose interest is it to classify soldiers according to their Sunni, Shiite, Druze and Christian religions?” Salam asked in remarks published Monday by local daily As-Safir. “Where will this act take us?”
“If the gunmen were acting in this manner for their own benefit, do we have to be dragged into these [religious] classifications?” Salam asked.
The UK ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher, also warned against the militants' plot, urging the Lebanese to "reject the divisions the gangsters aim to create" in a tweet Monday.
Islamist militants are holding at least 24 soldiers and policemen captive after the Nusra Front released five hostages Sunday.
The security personnel – from the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces – have been held captive by Nusra Front and ISIS since last month’s deadly gunbattles with the Lebanese Army in the northeastern town of Arsal.
Salam has announced the formation of an emergency cell to tackle the hostages’ issue. The cell, made up of senior security and political officials, held its first meeting Sunday.
Political sources, speaking to The Daily Star, described as “very significant” the meeting held in the presence of Magistrate Jean Fahed, the head of the Higher Judicial Council who oversees the trials of Islamist prisoners in Roumieh.
Fahed’s attendance, the source said, indicated the government’s willingness to seek out his opinion, as the release of the prisoners tops the militants’ demands.
During the meeting, Fahed said the trials were underway, and 22,000 out of the 36,000 total charges pressed against Islamist detainees had been processed, with some acquittals.
The sources said discussions focused on finding a “legal exit” in which Lebanon could release some Roumieh prisoners inconspicuously, in a manner that would not suggest a connection with the case of the captured soldiers.
The officials were expressly looking into releasing detainees who had not been charged, the sources said.