Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front issued a list of demands for the release of 27 Lebanese soldiers it has held hostage since August on Saturday.
In a statement, the group said it had passed on three sets of demands to Ahmed Al-Khatib, the Qatari mediator acting as a go-between between the group and the Lebanese authorities.
While the Lebanese government is attempting to secure the return of its soldiers, taken prisoner by Al-Nusra in clashes with the group in the border town of Arsal just over two months ago, the militant group is seeking to trade its prisoners for figures held in Lebanese and Syrian jails.
In the first option presented by Al-Nusra, the group offered to release one Lebanese soldier for the release of every ten prisoners held by the Lebanese authorities; the second stipulated the release of one Lebanese soldier for every seven male prisoners held by the Lebanese authorities and 30 female prisoners held in Syrian jails; while the third stipulated the release of one Lebanese soldier for every five male prisoners and 50 female prisoners held in Syria.
The statement added that Khatib, a Qatari of Syrian origin, had agreed “in principle” to one set of demands, implying this agreement was based on either the second or the third options, since it said he had agreed to the release of both male and female prisoners in Lebanon and Syria respectively.
The release added that a list of names of people the group was seeking to see released from prison had now been handed to Khatib and that the exchange for Syrian prisoners and those of other nationalities would take place either in Qatar or Turkey, with the Lebanese soldiers handed over on the outskirts of Arsal—in the case of a final agreement being reached.
Fighting broke out in the Lebanese town between the Lebanese military and members of the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in August, in a fierce five-day battle in what was then the latest spillover into Lebanon of the conflict in neighboring Syria.
The fighting was also notable as an instance of both these rival extremist groups fighting alongside one another, despite reports of a deadly rivalry between them in Syria and the denunciation of ISIS by Al-Nusra’s parent organization, Al-Qaeda.
ISIS has already executed two of the captured Lebanese soldiers, while Al-Nusra has executed another, and also threatened to kill more during recent fighting between the Lebanese military and both groups in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli, the latest example both of the spillover from the Syrian conflict into Lebanon and cooperation between both extremist groups.
The Lebanese army successfully took control of the city from fighters from both groups last week, but warned that many had fled the city and remained at large.