At last, more than a year and a half after being kidnapped by armed militias in the province of Muthanna in southern Iraq, 26 Qataris and two Saudis were released on Friday through hard and dangerous negotiations that included bargains and money in a cautious diplomacy, according to sources close to the issue.
Last Tuesday, Asharq Al-Awsat said the Qatari nationals who were kidnapped in Iraq might be released in the coming 48 hours, quoting a negotiator close to the issue.
Sources confirmed on Friday that the Iraqi “Hezbollah Brigades,” which are close to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, had kidnapped the Qataris on December 16, 2015 from a desert hunting party in the province of Muthanna in Iraq.
On Friday night, a Qatari airplane coming from Baghdad, landed in Doha carrying the released Qataris and Saudis, who were received by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani at the Doha International Airport.
Meanwhile, an official source at the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed the Kingdom’s appreciation and thanks for Iraq, especially Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi for the efforts made in finding the kidnapped Qatari nationals including two Saudi citizens and releasing them. The source said, “They are in good health as they left Iraqi territories on Friday afternoon.”
Meanwhile, a source close to the negotiations told AFP on condition of anonymity that the release of the Qatari and Saudi nationals was part of a broad regional deal.
“The Qataris are now in [Prime Minister] Haider al-Abadi’s office following a deal between Jabhat al-Nusra and the kidnappers,” the source said, referring to the former al-Qaeda affiliate now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
The first stage of the deal signed between Jubhat al-Nusra and Harakat Tahreer al-Sham from one side and Iran and “Hezbollah” from another side, is about to be finalized.
The deal stipulates the complete evacuation of the two Shi’ite-majority towns of Fua and Kefraya in return of the safe passage of a similar number of civilians, fighters and their families from the “Hezbollah” besieged Madaya and Zabadani towns in the western Damascus suburbs to northern Syrian areas,
AFP added that the deal also included the release of Lebanese armed fighters, held hostage by Jubhat al-Nusra.
It is also expected that the first stage of the deal would end by the liberation of 750 prisoners from the Syrian regime prisons.
When the current phase of the deal is complete, a total of 11,000 people should have been evacuated on two batches.
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