A relative of one of the kidnapped soldiers carry his picture during a protest in Dahr al-Baidar, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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"I think that was an ISIS demand," the Nusra militant told Fliti, when she asked about the conspicuous absence of the prisoners.As reflected in the disparate attitude adopted toward negotiations with the government to free at least 21 soldiers and policemen still in their custody, Nusra and ISIS in Qalamoun harbor starkly distinct interests in Lebanon. ISIS, on the other hand, ultimately seeks to establish a foothold in Lebanon, which is why the release of Islamist prisoners figures so prominently in its demands.For now, ISIS can afford to pursue ambitious designs on Lebanon because it wields the upper hand logistically in Qalamoun, according to a Syrian source acquainted with the militants and a former mediator responsible for brokering the cease-fire that ended the first round of clashes in Arsal. The former mediator confided to The Daily Star that ISIS militants were in a "better position" than their less-resourced counterparts. He added that during negotiations, the main two contacts that mediators have with ISIS was Abu Talal, who assumed leadership of Imad Jomaa's brigade, and the Nusra commander Abu Malek. Both sources acquainted with the militants, including the former mediator, claimed that ISIS sometimes bribes Syrian regime agents to ensure their supplies arrive to Qalamoun.
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