Qatar ends mediation of Lebanon’s hostage crisis Dec. 08, 2014 | 12:40 AM
The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Qatar ended its mediation of Lebanon’s hostage crisis Sunday after the killing of Lebanese policeman Ali Bazzal, as the Lebanese government struggled to contain the fallout of the murder and anger mounted among the families of the 25 remaining captives.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it had launched the mediation efforts upon the request of Lebanon, and for strictly humanitarian reasons. But it said it was putting an end to its mediation after its effort to resolve the crisis failed.
Qatar said it regreted the killing of Bazzal and it renewed its commitment to exert all diplomatic efforts to save lives.
During condolences in the eastern village of Bazzalieh – Bazzal’s hometown – members of the families made speeches accusing the Lebanese government of inaction and negligence.
The “sluggish” performance of the committee – made up of ministers and security officials – tasked with overseeing the hostages file, also drew the criticism of Speaker Nabih Berri Sunday. Berri told his visitors that the involvement of multiple intermediaries at once made the issue even more complicated and he called on the appointment of a single security figure to take charge of the file.
“They [the government] need to agree on one security figure [and task him] with overseeing the file in coordination with the government. A specialized [security] expert needs to deal with that file,” Berri said. “We have a lot of strong [bargaining chips] that we have yet to use.”A concise statement, issued after an emergency meeting of the crisis cell Saturday evening, said the committee took “necessary decisions” and reiterated that the government and the Lebanese were united in the fight to release the abducted servicemen and safeguard Lebanon’s security.The Nusra Front announced that it had executed Bazzal late Friday in a tweet with a picture of a man said to be of the captive with a machine gun firing shots at his head.
“Our revenge will not be [taken] against Arsal,” one of the parents said during a news conference from Bazzalieh, in reference to the northeastern border village from where the captives were abducted by jihadis in August. “Our revenge will be taken against the Grand Serail,” he added, in reference to the headquarters of the Lebanese government. “You have never known courage,” one parent said, addressing Prime Minister Tammam Salam, calling on him to act quickly to free the 25 remaining captives.
Some of the families in north Lebanon blocked for a second day the Qalamoun road in north Lebanon linking Tripoli to Beirut, but they reopened it Sunday evening.
The families had closed the Qalamoun road and the highway linking Downtown Beirut to the capital’s port – a main artery – after news emerged of Bazzal’s killing late Friday, bringing traffic to a standstill across the capital. The families have been camped outside the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut over the last two months to pressure the government to negotiate the release of the servicemen.
More than 30 policemen and soldiers were abducted by militants from ISIS and the Nusra Front during a five-day battle with the Army in Arsal in August. Four have since been executed, and seven released.
Residents of the village of Bazzalieh also issued a warning overnight Saturday to all Syrians residing in areas surrounding the town, calling on refugees to immediately evacuate the area. Tensions between refugees and Lebanese host communities heightened after the Bazzalieh residents vowed to prevent aid from reaching Syrian refugees. Bazzal’s family described Syrians living in Arsal, in the northeastern region bordering Syria, as “a bunch of terrorists, takfiris and not refugees, and that was evident when they attacked the Army in Arsal.”
“We will not allow any international or local organization to transport aid to these terrorists … and anyone who blocks a road in solidarity with them will be supporting terrorists.” Hours after the Nusra Front announced in a tweet that it had executed Bazzal, residents of Bazzalieh kidnapped three men near the town.
The kidnappers shot and wounded a Syrian man who accompanied the three. He was transferred to a Baalbek hospital. The three have since been released, thanks to efforts by Speaker Berri, he revealed to his visitors. “I have contributed to the release of the three men, but the [kidnappers] have yet to deliver to us the bodies of any of the servicemen they killed,” he said. Assailants set fire to Syrian refugee tents in northern Lebanon Sunday, hours after gunmen shot dead a Syrian child and wounded a man in the northeast.
Early Sunday, unidentified gunmen opened fire on Syrian refugee tents in the northeastern town of Ras Baalbek, a security source said. He said one Syrian child was killed and a Syrian man wounded in the attack. Syrian refugee tents were also burned in the village of Mashha in Akkar early Saturday, after a statement was issued by local residents demanding Syrians leave the village. No casualties were registered.
In a statement issued on its Twitter account, the Nusra Front vowed to kill more servicemen if Lebanese authorities fail to release the women and children it had arrested on suspicion of links with jihadi groups. Saja al-Dulaimi, the ex-wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and their daughter and two sons are being detained by Lebanese authorities. Also in custody are Ola Mithqal al-Oqaily, the wife of ISIS commander Anas Sharkas and her two children, a 4-year-old and a 6-month-old.
The Muslim Scholars Committee, a gathering of Salafist sheikhs, issued a proposal over the weekend, titled “The Dignity and Safety Initiative.” It calls for the release of the detained women in return for the freeing of the 25 servicemen. The sheikhs also called on the government to approve a swap deal. “Swapping the captives for the detained is a necessity just like the extension of [Parliament’s] mandate was a necessity and the dialogue [between the Future Movement and Hezbollah] was [portrayed to be] a necessity.”
The killing of Bazzal drew condemnations from across the political spectrum, including the Future Movement and Hezbollah.