BEIRUT: While the trial of Islamist militants at Roumieh prison will be put on the front-burner in an effort to defuse the hostage crisis gripping Lebanon, rumors that prisoners will be released without trials are “baseless,” sources told The Daily Star Monday.
Security, judicial and ministerial sources told The Daily Star that the trials, which are expected to begin within a few days, would involve Islamist detainees who had already spent as much time in prison as any sentence they faced.
The sources said that the prisoners’ trial and eventual release was aimed at ending the deadlock over the hostages’ crisis.
Roumieh holds several Islamist detainees awaiting trial, with the majority linked to the 2007 Fatah al-Islam battles against the Lebanese Army in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in north Lebanon.
The decision on the commencement of the long-awaited trials was made during a meeting Sunday held in the presence of Magistrate Jean Fahed, the head of the Higher Judicial Council who oversees the trials of Islamist prisoners in Roumieh.
The release of the prisoners tops the demands of militants who 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 border town fo Arsal.
Political sources said discussions during Sunday’s meeting 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.
Sheikh Adnan Amama, a member of the Committee of Muslim Scholars that was at one point involved in negotiating the release of the captive soldiers, said he believed reports of a possible deal were legitimate and that “a kind of swap is being prepared, to exchange prisoners not charged or indicted.”
“It is clear that the government is being more flexible by considering the idea of a swap, even though it concerns less significant individuals,” Amama told The Daily Star. “This is very positive.”
Judicial sources, however, have denied such reports as “baseless rumors.”
Speaking to The Daily Star, they stressed there won’t be any random release, saying only the court would order a prisoner release.
Local mediator Sheikh Mustafa Hujeiri in Arsal said that the government had not taken a firm decision to truly engage in the negotiations.
“At least they are considering [the swap deal],” he said, “because before they were not open to making any concessions.”
He said Qatar was handling negotiations with ISIS to secure the release of the troops and policemen held captive by the group.
“The Lebanese state knows very well that nothing comes free, the militants have demands, so the state must assume responsibility,” he said.
Both Amama and Hujieri said that reports circulating about the numbers of prisoners being considered were mere speculation.