BEIRUT: The families of the nine missing Lebanese Army soldiers kidnapped by Daesh (ISIS) in 2014 gathered in Downtown Beirut Sunday as news broke that the militants were disclosing information on potential gravesites on the Lebanese-Syrian border.
The relatives of the captive soldiers gathered at the makeshift camp that was erected by the families in Downtown Beirut nearly three-years-ago. The relatives sat out of the midday sun under awnings and in tents adorned with pictures of the nine missing soldiers.
The mood was somber, with friends and relatives conversing quietly with the families of the captives. A priest visited briefly and spoke with the families, as onlookers exchanged rumors about the fates of the captives.
Speaking to the media, the families’ unofficial spokesman Hussein Youssef dismissed unconfirmed reports that the soldiers were dead, saying they remained hopeful that the men would return alive.
"We have been hearing rumors since Saturday, leaving us in a state of fear, anguish and shock," Youssef, looking strained, told The Daily Star from the tents. He added that since just before midnight Saturday the families had been in contact with General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who has been overseeing the case of the missing soldiers.
"We did not mourn our children," Youssef said, thanking all those who sympathize with their cause and saying that the families are in constant communication with Ibrahim.
The General Security chief has been the lead negotiator tasked with uncovering the whereabouts of the soldiers and Sunday morning said that the day will bring the case of the three-year abduction to a close.
"Enough pain to the mothers ... We have been suffering for three years," Youssef. He urged "media outlets that have been following" the matter to ignore the rumors and only to quote the Army's Directorate of Orientation, Ibrahim and the families, rather than speculating through unnamed sources.
“I will believe that my son is a martyr when I bury him with my own hands,” Youssef said, adding that "we [families] will hopefully be able to deal with the shock, whether negative or positive."
Army recruits Mohammad Masri, Ibrahim Mughait, Khaled Hasan, Hussein Ammar, Mustafa Ali Wehbe, Ali al Masri, Said Thebian, Abdel Rahim Diab and Ali Haj Mustafa al-Hasan have been held in captivity by Daesh since Aug. 2, 2014.
Youssef told The Daily Star that one of the nine soldiers was said to have joined Daesh during his time in captivity and his whereabouts are unknown.
He added that there is still no information on the location two other missing servicemen, recruit Abbas Medlej - who is believed to have died - and Yehya Khodr.
Militants from Daesh and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham – formerly known as the Nusra Front – briefly overran Arsal in the worst spill over since the Syrian war began in 2011, before being pushed out to the surrounding mountainous outskirts by the Army.
The militants remained entrenched in the outskirts until an offensive by Hezbollah in July ended with a settlement for Jabhat Fatah al-Sham to leave for Syria’s Idlib.
The Army then launched the Fajr al-Joroud offensive against Daesh on Aug. 19. The Army Sunday paused the last phase of the offensive against Daesh militants on the outskirts of Al-Qaa and Ras Baalbeck to await news of the missing servicemen. But warned the militants that if the information given proved inaccurate or they felt the negotiation was not progressing in good faith they would launch the final conclusive push and end Daesh occupation of Lebanese territory.