A girl cries as she hugs her father, an Internal Security Forces member, as he arrived at the Grand Serail hours after his release by the Nusra Front Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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Sixteen Lebanese servicemen, held captive for 16 months, received a hero's welcome in Beirut Tuesday shortly after their release by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front in exchange for Islamist prisoners, including the ex-wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.However, the swap deal, brokered by Qatar following months of tough negotiations with the kidnappers, did not include nine soldiers still held hostage by ISIS on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal. The 16 servicemen had been held hostage by the Nusra Front since August 2014 when they were captured during a joint attack on Arsal by Nusra and ISIS militants, who battled the Lebanese Army before retreating to the town's outskirts. Under the deal, Lebanon released 13 Islamist prisoners, among them five women, including the ISIS chief's ex-wife, Saja al-Dulaimi, who was accompanied by three children. Clean-shaven and dressed in new military uniforms, the servicemen – 13 policemen and three soldiers – were greeted at the Grand Serail by senior political and security officials, including Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, Ibrahim and Qatari Ambassador to Lebanon Ali bin Hamad al-Marri.
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