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Lebanese, Syrian Militant Prisoner Swap Hits Snag

  • Edward Yeranian

Families of missing soldiers, who were kidnapped by militants from the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, watch news on a television about a possible prisoners exchange between Lebanon and the Nusra Front, in tents set for their protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Nov. 29, 2015.

Families of missing soldiers, who were kidnapped by militants from the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, watch news on a television about a possible prisoners exchange between Lebanon and the Nusra Front, in tents set for their protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Nov. 29, 2015.

A last-minute snag forced the cancellation of a prisoner swap between the Lebanese government and the Syrian militant Jabhat al Nusra group, after the organization reportedly increased its demands. Lebanon's top negotiator says talks continue.

A convoy of Lebanese aid trucks due to be part of a deal to secure the release of 16 Lebanese government soldiers returned Sunday to Beirut from the Bekaa Valley, amid reports negotiations hit a last-minute snag.

The pan-Arab daily Al Hayat reported the Gulf state of Qatar's intelligence agency was overseeing the talks between the Syrian militant Jabhat al Nusra group, which is holding the soldiers, and Lebanon's General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim.

Lebanese media quoted Ibrahim as saying, “Negotiations are still going on,” and the “prisoner swap deal has not collapsed.”

Why deal fell apart

Lebanon's MTV reported the deal fell apart over demands by Jabhat al Nusra that food aid be transported by truck to a nearby region of Syria under its control. The group reportedly is also demanding its wounded be evacuated to Beirut and then flown to Turkey.

Families of the Lebanese soldiers continued to camp out in the center of Beirut.

The wife of one of the captive soldiers told journalists she was grateful to all those taking part in the talks to secure her husband's release.

Mutual distrust

American University of Beirut political scientist Hilal Khashan told VOA the Lebanese government had no interest in breaking off talks.

“There is mutual distrust here [between the militants and the government] and it would not surprise me if [the Jabhat] al Nusra would make last-minute demands, because they know the families of the detainees are really keen on seeing the release of their loved ones,” said Khashan.

The Lebanese soldiers were captured during clashes along the Syrian border in August 2014. The rival Islamic State group is also holding some soldiers captive, but their fate is unclear and talks to obtain their release have broken down.

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