Nusra Front Releases 16 Servicemen after 15 Months of Captivityإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
The al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front released on Tuesday 16 servicemen it had abducted from the northeastern border town of Arsal in 2014.
The servicemen were released through a Qatari-mediated deal that also included a prisoner swap to release a number of inmates from Lebanese jails.
The swap took place on the outskirts of Arsal.
The servicemen were transported to Lebanon by the Red Cross amid scenes of jubilation among their loved ones, who were monitoring the developments in Beirut.
The servicemen told MTV that they were treated well by their captors, thanking General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, Health Minister Wael Abou Faour, Qatar, and other officials for their efforts to ensure their release.
They also hoped that attention would be focused on the displaced families on the Lebanese-Syrian border to help provide them with aid.
Hours later, the freed men arrived in Beirut, dressed in their police and military uniforms, clean-shaven, and with their hair freshly cut. An official welcoming ceremony was held for them at the Grand Serail.
They later celebrated their freedom along with their families at the nearby Riad al-Solh Square before they headed to their hometowns.
Thirteen inmates, including five women, were freed in exchange for the servicemen, said al-Jazeera television.
They include the divorcee of Islamic State leader Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi, Saja al-Dulaimi.
She told reporters at the scene that she had divorced al-Baghdadi six or seven years ago and that she intends to head to Turkey.
The prisoners were originally intended to be handed to al-Nusra, but a security source told AFP that at least 10 of them were returned to Beirut instead, at their request.
A lawyer who had overseen the mediation efforts said that the deal calls for allowing the displaced present on the outskirts of Arsal to receive monthly batches of aid.
A safe zone will also be set up in Wadi Hmeid to ensure the security of civilians, he revealed.
The deal also includes catering to the displaced people's legal affairs in Lebanon, he said.
“The Lebanese government and Qatari sponsor have pledged to coordinate these efforts with us,” he added.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam is set to meet with the servicemen at the Grand Serail, reported Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5).
Earlier, the Red Cross had received the corpse of soldier Mohammed Hamieh, who was executed by al-Nusra Front in September 2014.
His body had been taken to the military hospital in Beirut to undergo DNA tests to verify his identity.
Nine hostages are being held by the IS and their families do not know much about their fate, said LBCI television on Tuesday.
Ibrahim later stated: "Our joy today will not be complete until the release of the hostages held by the IS."
“We are ready to hold negotiations with the IS to release the captives if someone on their end voices readiness to do so,” he added.
Nineteen troops were killed in August 2014 in clashes that erupted between the army and the al-Nusra Front and IS.
The servicemen were abducted in the aftermath of the fighting.
The release of the 16 servicemen ended months of anxiety over their fate after the two groups had previously executed four of the hostages.