19:52 GMT17 February 2020
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    Lebanese Information Minister Ramzy Jreij told Sputnik that the country is delighted to welcome 16 Lebanese prisoners home after being freed from al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, but will not rest until Daesh captives are also freed.

    The swap deal between the Lebanese government and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front that returns home 16 members of the Lebanese security forces is a reason for celebration, Lebanese Information Minister Ramzy Jreij told Sputnik. However, the country still wants nine prisoners who were captured by Daesh (Islamic State).

    "Today is a magnificent joy – the release of the captured Lebanese military members, who were in the captivity of al-Nusra Front. Yet, the joy will not be complete until all the captured are freed from 'Daesh,'" said Jreij. 

    "This is a step forward, and it should be noted that this is due to efforts made by the Lebanese security personnel, precisely the Head of the General Security Major-General Abbas Ibrahim. They managed to reach this result."

    "We hope that we free the rest of the captured. I congratulate the families who return home safe with their sons, and we hope that the stability will prevail in our country, Lebanon."

    The freed prisoners were members of the Lebanese security forces, who were kidnapped by militants from the al-Nusra Front in August 2014, after clashes between Islamic militants and the Lebanese army and police and in the town of Arsal, close the border with Syria. 

    The al-Nusra Front killed four of the captives while they were being held prisoner. Nine Lebanese kidnapped by Daesh are still being held captive.

    As part of the prisoner swap deal, which was brokered by Qatar, Lebanon has agreed to release 13 Islamists jailed in Lebanon, including Saja al-Dulaimi, the ex-wife of Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad.  Al-Dulaimi and her son had been detained in December 2014 in Lebanon, after crossing the Syrian border on fake passports, according to Lebanese security officials.

    Information Minister Jreij gave assurances that the security situation in Arsal will not deteriorate as a result of the deal.

    "This is a security responsibility … the Lebanese Army will keep constant vigil to control the situation in Arsal so that a security violation doesn't occur."

    Jreij was also asked about the prospects of ending on Lebanon's ongoing political deadlock; elections in April 2014 failed to elect a president, because no candidate was able to secure a two-thirds majority in the 128-member parliament.

    "I don't want to connect this deal with the political process, which depends on the will of Lebanon to find a settlement that can fill the presidential vacancy, and activate the role of the constitutional institutions," said Jreij.

    "Some difficulties exist and we aspire to reach a settlement in the near future."

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    Tags:
    prisoner exchange, Daesh, Al-Nusra Front, Syria, lebanon
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