Qassem Calls on State to Unite Negotiation Channels

Hizbullah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem called on the government on Tuesday to lead the mediation regarding the case of abducted servicemen, stressing that the negotiation channels should unite.

“The release of the captives is a noble goal that we should all be seeking,” Qassem told reporters after a meeting with the families of the hostages, who were taken captive by the al-Qaida-affiliate al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group after they overran the northeastern border town of Arsal.

“Whatever the sacrifices were, we aren't used to leaving our prisoners in captivity,” Qassem said.

The Hizbullah official called on the state to unify the negotiation channels and task the crisis cell with fully assuming its responsibilities towards the case.

He stressed that the party supports direct and indirect negotiations with the kidnappers, leaving the final decision to the crisis cell but with limitations.

The relatives had called recently on the Muslim Scholars Committee to play a bigger role in the negotiations after Qatar withdrew from the case, but a Salafist cleric, Wissam al-Masri expressed readiness to negotiate their release and Health Minister Wael Abou Faour, who is loyal to Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat, appointed the deputy of Arsal municipal chief Ahmed Fleiti, to carry out the negotiations.

Qassem also called on the media to end the debates regarding the case of abductees in order to guarantee the success of negotiations.

“The media is only serving the abductors,” he remarked, calling for more secrecy over the matter.

The Hizbullah official also called on the Lebanese to cooperate with the families and participate in activities to press the release of the servicemen, vowing that the party will exert all possible efforts to release them.

Qassem slammed the extortion of the kidnappers by setting a high level of demands.

The kidnapped soldiers and policemen were taken hostage after the al-Nusra Front and the IS group overran Arsal in August.

Four captives have been executed so far, and the jihadists have threatened to kill the remaining hostages unless there is a deal to free Islamist prisoners in Lebanon.

Last week, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said 16 police and soldiers were still being held by al-Nusra, and nine by IS.

The families later headed to Bkirki for talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi.

The patriarch called on the jihadists to preserve the lives of Arsal captives, who were only carrying out their duties.

He expressed solidarity with the relatives, revealing that he received a letter from Pope Francis mentioning their children.

“We demand the state to deal with the matter in a more serious manner,” al-Rahi said.



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