Relative of freed Lebanese reacts
Relative of freed Lebanese reacts Reuters

The Lebanese army and Syria's Nusra Front, a branch of Al Qaeda, conducted a long-awaited prisoner swap Tuesday outside Arsal, where several Lebanese soldiers were kidnapped last year.

The deal, brokered by Qatari mediators, entailed the release of 16 Lebanese soldiers and policemen in exchange for 13 prisoners, including five women, who had been held by the Lebanese.

The exchange brought a partial end to a hostage crisis that has been ongoing jihadist groups overran the eastern town of Arsal, on the Syrian border, in August 2014.

At the initial stage of the exchange, Nusra Front handed over the body of Mohammed Hamieh, one of two Lebanese soldiers killed by its men.

Another nine soldiers and policemen remain in the hands of ISIS, and it is not certain that negotiations to free them can succeed.

On Tuesday, staff of the Lebanese Red Cross were present at the site of the exchange alongside the Lebanese army soldiers. Television footage showed the men boarding four Red Cross vehicles before being driven to an army checkpoint.

Around them, armed and masked Nusra fighters waved the group's flag and chanted slogans.

One of the freed soldiers told Al Jazeera: "We would like to thank Nusra Front for releasing us. We would like to thank everyone who took part in the negotiations that led to our release."

Among the prisoners released by Lebanon is Saja Dulaimi, former wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS.

Dulaimi was arrested in November of 2014 by Lebanese security forces in northern Lebanon, on charges of belonging to a terrorist group.

In June 2015, she gave birth in prison to a baby girl. Included in the exchange were her children, who remained with her during her incarceration.

Speaking to Al Jazeera shortly after her release in Arsal, Dulaimi she intended to go to Turkey.

AFP contributed to this report