Lebanon News

Swap deal to preserve state prestige

File - Lebanese Army soldiers prepare to deploy toward Arsal, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

The government will not swap any detainees with the servicemen held by the Nusra Front and ISIS since August, a security source told The Daily Star Thursday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said that a solution to the hostage crisis the government was working on would see Hezbollah releasing Islamist militants it captured during battles with Syrian rebels in Syria in return for the freeing of the servicemen.

“This will preserve the prestige of the state and solve the problem of the hostages at the same time,” the source said. “How can the government release a terrorist charged with killing dozens of soldiers?”

ISIS and the Nusra Front are holding at least 21 soldiers and policemen on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal. They captured them during battles with the Army in the town in August.

The source explained that an envoy of Qatar who had met the captors Tuesday had relayed to the Lebanese authorities a promise by them not to harm the kidnapped security personnel during the negotiations process.

“This promise is what we got from the envoy,” the source said.

After holding the negotiations with ISIS and the Nusra Front Tuesday, the envoy handed over 1st Adj. Kamal Mohammad Hujeiri – who had been snatched by the Nusra Front from his farm in Arsal last month – to the General Security.

The source said that the envoy, a Qatari national, was still in Lebanon, expecting that more soldiers would be released within the coming two days on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, which falls this coming weekend.

ISIS has killed two captives so far, while the Nusra Front shot dead one soldier late last month.

But the source said that although the guarantee marked progress in talks, nothing would ensure that the captors would keep their promise.

“How can you trust terrorists?” the source said.

He expressed fears that the killing of another kidnapped Shiite soldier could trigger retaliatory attacks in Lebanon that Hezbollah might not be able to stop.

The source added that the government was indirectly negotiating with the kidnappers through Turkey, to end the hostage crisis.

General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, who is charged by the government with following up on negotiations, returned from Turkey earlier this week after holding talks with Turkish officials on the issue.

“By talking to Turkey... there is no need for direct contact with the captors,” the source said, adding that the atmosphere during the talks had been “positive.”

“Authorities believe that they will be able to win the freedom of the hostages through Turkey’s pressuring the captors and through the Syrian and Lebanese armies’ tightening the noose on the militants on the outskirts of Arsal,” the source said.

He added that the security situation in Lebanon in general was intact, as none of the major political factions in Lebanon wanted trouble in the country.

However, he warned there was a possibility that individuals who embraced the doctrine of extremist groups such as ISIS in north Lebanon could carry out terrorist attacks in the area.

“Attacks targeting the Army across Lebanon are a daily expectation” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 03, 2014, on page 2.

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