Berri says Qalamoun battle will free Lebanon: report/Relatives of captive Lebanese policeman being held hostage by the Nusra Front visit the captives on Arsal outskirts

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Relatives of captive Lebanese policeman being held hostage by the Nusra Front visit the captives on Arsal outskirts
The Daily Star/May. 03, 2015/BEIRUT: The family of a captive policeman being held hostage by the Nusra Front visited their son on the outskirts of the Lebanese border town of Arsal Saturday. Mohammad Taleb, one of 25 Lebanese servicemen being held hostage by the Nusra Front and ISIS since August, met with his wife, children, mother and aunt, Hussein Youssef, the spokesman for the committee representing the families told The Daily Star. The meeting, which lasted thirty minutes, came after the captive policeman had contacted his family through Whatsapp and informed them that they had been granted permission to visit. The family has had no contact with their son since he was taken captive during pitched battled between the Lebanese Army and Islamist militants in Arsal last August. Taleb had asked his family to bring along some food and money and asked them to coordinate with other family members who would also like to send some supplies to their children. The family arrived at an Army checkpoint outside the Lebanese border town Saturday by car.

The Nusra Front sent a vehicle that later transported the family from outside the town to Nusra’s headquarters on the outskirts. After the meeting, the family said that their son was in good health and claimed that he was being treated well by the captors, Youssef said. Taleb’s family also passed along a warning from the militants that any battles with either Hezbollah or the Lebanese Army could risk the lives of the hostages since they are prisoners of war, he added. The family was also told by the Nusra Front that negotiations with the Lebanese government were non-existent – a routine claim given by the captors to every family who has visited the outskirts, Youssef said. Saturday’s visit comes less than a month since the relatives of captive servicemen Abbas Msheik and Sleiman Dirani also visited their sons on the outskirts of Arsal. Youssef said that the increased number of congenial visits as of late serves as “positive indicator” that negotiations may be going in the right track, despite claims by the militant’s that talks are non-existent. Last month, General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim announced that ongoing talks for the release of the Lebanese soldiers and policemen held hostage by the jihadis are progressing, but said that there is no set timetable for their release. The militants sent their demands to the Lebanese government last year, asking for the release of Islamist prisoners in Lebanese prisons in return for the servicemen’s freedom

Berri says Qalamoun battle will free Lebanon: report
 The Daily Star/May. 03, 2015/BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri voiced support for a highly-anticipated battle between Hezbollah and Islamist militants in Syria’s Qalamoun region Sunday, describing the impending fighting as an attempt by the resistance to liberate Lebanese lands. “The [militants] have wrested control over roughly 600 square kilometers of land on the outskirts of Arsal and other areas,” a report published by Al-Hayat Sunday quoted the Speaker as saying. “And as long as there is an occupation of Lebanese land then I support the [efforts] of the resistance to liberate it.”He also said that the Qalamoun battle is “brewing” and would commence “very soon.”The speaker’s comments come as Hezbollah is reported to be mobilizing its fighters for a much-anticipated offensive against Islamist militants, namely ISIS and the Nusra Front, entrenched in Syria’s Qalamoun region. The two groups are still holding hostage 25 Lebanese servicemen captured during the fierce fighting with the Lebanese Army in the northeastern town of Arsal last August. As for the role played by the Lebanese Army, the speaker said that soldiers should not venture into Syrian territory but should protect their bases in the outskirts of Arsal in order to prevent militants from entering into Lebanese territory. Berri acknowledged that the battle could widen the rift between the Future Movement, which vehemently opposes any intervention in Syria, and Hezbollah.

He said, however, that the aim of the battle is to end the militant’s control over Lebanese territories, not to meddle in Syrian affairs. With regards to the case of 25 Lebanese captive servicemen who have been held hostage by ISIS and Nusra Front since August, Berri hinted that the battle could involve an operation to secure there release. “For your information, the servicemen being held captive by militants are on Lebanese territory,” he said in reference to the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal. Elements of ISIS, the Nusra Front and other Syrian rebel groups have been fighting each other and against forces allied to the Syrian government in the Qalamoun mountain range over the past two years. Fighting intensified following the Syrian government’s capture of the western city of Yabroud last March. The capture of the city sent rebel fighters fleeing towards the Qalamoun mountains, along the border with Lebanon. In October, Nusra fighters in Qalamoun launched a surprise attack on Hezbollah posts on the outskirts of the eastern Lebanese towns of Brital and Nahle, killing eight. The Lebanese Army has also clashed intermittently with Qalamoun-based rebels along Lebanon’s eastern border.