Qatar has achieved a breakthrough in its mediation to secure the release of Lebanese servicemen held captive by jihadi militants on the Syrian border, daily As-Safir reported Friday.
The newspaper said the Qataris, who have reportedly relaunched mediation efforts recently, informed General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim that they have reached a partial deal in the negotiations with al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.
A list of the names of Islamist prisoners in Lebanon and Syria that the militants want to be swapped in exchange for the hostages was finalized, the report said.
Ibrahim heads the mediation cell tasked with negotiating the hostage crisis. Nusra and ISIS together hold 25 Lebanese police and soldiers captive, but their negotiations are being conducted separately.
As-Safir quoted "well-informed" sources as saying that Ibrahim traveled to Doha last week, got in touch with the Syrian leadership more than once, and visited Ankara on Thursday for new talks with Qatari intelligence chief Ghanem al-Kubaisi aimed at reaching an agreement on a clear and specific system for carrying out the swap.
The sources said the deal will be limited to the Lebanese hostages held by the Nusra Front only, and not ISIS.
ISIS is believed to be holding about nine of the 25 hostages, while the rest are with Nusra.
The sources disclosed that negotiations with ISIS had reached an advanced stage in January through an unofficial Lebanese mediator, including an agreement to carry out the swap in three stages.
ISIS was supposed to release all nine soldiers it holds in exchange for several Islamist prisoners by the end of March, but the militants froze the talks at the last minute without any reason or justification, the sources said.
The hostages have been held on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal since August, when the Army clashed with militants from both jihadi groups in the town.
The original number of captives was 37, but the Nusra Front has since released eight and shot dead two, while ISIS beheaded two.
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