Lebanese Government to hold direct negotiations with militants to release Lebanese servicemen


 Lebanese Government to hold direct negotiations with militants to release Lebanese servicemen

The Daily Star/Nov. 29, 2014

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government will directly negotiate with the militants holding 26 servicemen through a local mediator, local media said Saturday, hours after Nusra Front went back on its threat to kill one of the hostages.

Al-Akhbar said the government would work with Mustafa Hujeiri, a sheikh in the northeastern town of Arsal who has been close to the hostage crisis since the servicemen’s abduction in August.

Quoting sources, Al-Akhbar said the decision came after the main mediator, who was tasked by Qatar to negotiate the release of the men, was mostly absent.

The mediator was assigned after Lebanon asked Doha to help with the hostage crisis and help free the soldiers and policemen, who were kidnapped by ISIS and Nusra Front during clashes with the Army in Arsal.

“May God give me what holds good for me,” Hujeiri told Al-Akhbar when asked about his recent appointment as a mediator by the government.

He said he spent the last two days trying to convince the Nusra Front to refrain from executing one of the soldiers, Ali Bazzal, who the group vowed to kill unless authorities released a female detainee held on terror charges.

In remarks to An-Nahar, Health MInister Wael Abu Faour, who is a member of the ministerial crisis committee formed to follow up on the case, said the government “is exerting all its efforts to resolve the hostage case through serious, direct, and immediate negotiations with the captors to stop any act that could harm the safety of the soldiers.”

Nusra Front released a statement Saturday morning, saying they decided not to execute another soldier after the Lebanese government showed its willingness to hold serious negotiations.

“Given the attention the case has received in the last 24 hours from many Lebanese figures including the Qatari mediator, the Lebanese government and the relatives of the soldiers who gave us official promises that serious, clear and public negotiations will begin this morning and a commitment to release some prisoners in exchange for the captives, we decided to postpone the execution of Ali Bazzal,” the group said in a statement.

The government has agreed in principle to releasing a number of detainees in Lebanese prisons in exchange for the hostages, as demanded by the Nusra Front.