Rebels Want Prisoners in Exchange for Soldiers

Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front offers to free Lebanese soldiers in exchange for Islamist prisoners held in Syria and Lebanon.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Nusra Front fighters in Syria
Nusra Front fighters in Syria

The Syrian rebel group Al-Nusra Front has offered to free Lebanese soldiers it has captured in exchange for Islamist prisoners held in Syria and Lebanon, Reuters reported Sunday, citing the SITE Intelligence Group.

The Al-Qaeda-linked group said in a statement monitored by SITE that it had presented a Qatari negotiator with three proposals for the release of the soldiers, taken when its fighters and militants from the Islamic State (ISIS), which controls parts of Iraq and Syria, briefly seized the border town of Arsal in August.

According to the statement, which SITE said was posted on Twitter on Saturday, Nusra asked for the release of 10 "brothers" held in Lebanon, or seven prisoners in Lebanon and 30 female prisoners held in Syria, or six prisoners and 50 female prisoners for each captive soldiers.

It was not clear if these proposals also include a number of soldiers held by ISIS.

Lebanese officials were not immediately available for comment.

Violence from Syria's three-year civil war has spilled over to Lebanon, with bombings in Beirut, fighting in the northern city of Tripoli, and rocket attacks on Bekaa Valley towns close to the frontier.

Many of the attacks have targeted Hezbollah’s strongholds in Lebanon, particularly since the group acknowledged that it is sending fighters into Syria to support President Bashar Al-Assad's troops as they battle rebels.

In one of the worst incidents, Al-Nusra and ISIS staged an incursion into Arsal in August and took around 20 soldiers prisoner when they pulled out.

ISIS beheaded two of the captives and Al-Nusra shot one.

Nusra said in its statement that once an agreement was reached, the handover of the female prisoners would occur either in Qatar or Turkey. Male prisoners would be handed over in Arsal's mountainous countryside.

The Al-Nusra Front has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and has been blacklisted by the United States and the United Nations as a terrorist group.

The group has claimed responsibility for several of the bombing attacks in Lebanon over the past several years.