BEIRUT: Losing patience over the state’s inaction, the families of the captive troops Thursday gave the government 24 hours to act before they take matters into their own hands, calling on the Army to arrest all ministers and trade them for the captives.
“We call on the Army Chief Jean Kahwagi to arrest all ministers and to swap them for soldiers detained by militants, out of respect for the prestige of the state," the protesters said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
“We give the government 24 hours to free our sons,” the statement added, “or else we are not responsible for anything that could happen.”
The call followed a sit-in facing the Grand Serail from 10 a.m. Thursday, where the relatives had warned that further delay could lead to catastrophic results for the nation.
"If one of their sons was among the kidnapped, they would have done anything to bring him back," said Nawaf, the brother of the kidnapped policeman Abbas Msheik, in reference to government ministers. “But they do not care about the normal people like us, because we are poor and we are not backed by any political party.”
Nawaf told The Daily Star that Msheik was suffering from liver problems and needed urgent treatment.
About 100 parents, children and cousins sat on the hot asphalt in the scorching sun, to warn the ministers - meeting just a few meters away - that if they do not act immediately to end the detention of their men, the results would be worse than expected.
“They have a plan to wage a civil war!” one of the protesters shouted, in reference to ISIS and the Nusra Front. “We will not fall for it, but if they do anything to my brother, I know what to do to theirs.”
His threat, referring to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, was echoed by other protesters.
“Their families live among us here,” said Ali Hajj Hasan, who carried a file of documents and statements, and appeared to be the movement’s coordinator. “If they harm our people, we will just expel them from the country.”
A cousin of a kidnapped Army soldier with the same name, Hajj Hasan accused the government of lying to the families for 30 days and of “not respecting the souls of the soldiers.”
Although rejected by many political leaders, negotiating directly with the militants was widely supported by the demonstrators.
“They only mention the state’s prestige, but what about the dignity of those wearing uniforms to defend the state?” Hajj Hasan yelled. “There is no shame in negotiating; the shame is in letting them kill those heroes while politicians are discussing what to do!”
The protesters’ rage was aimed against both March 8 and March 14 politicians, who, according to one of the protestors, "sit in the air-conditioned Grand Serail and procrastinate on the most vital of all decisions."
Thursday's protest was the first by the families of the kidnapped soldiers in Beirut, after they had blocked roads in east and north Lebanon to voice the same demands.
Anxiety had clearly taken over the mothers’ faces, as they feared that that their sons’ fate could be similar to 1st Sgt. Ali al-Sayyed, who was beheaded by ISIS last week.
During his funeral Wednesday, Sayyed’s family called for a “revolution” until the at least 23 soldiers and policemen still held by ISIS and Nusra Front are released.
Sayyed and the other captives were taken captive by the militants during the five-day gunbattles with the Lebanese Army in the northeastern border town of Arsal last month. The jihadists have demanded the release of Islamist inmates held in Roumieh Prison in exchange for the soldiers.