ISIS ‘meets’ Qatari mission over Lebanon hostages
A Qatari delegation is engaged in mediation with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to end Lebanon’s most recent hostage crisis, the militant group has claimed, in what analysts and commentators said was part of Doha’s ambitious plans to play a more influential regional role.
“We met today with the Qatari mediator. It appeared to us that the negotiations are being obstructed by other parties,” Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star quoted ISIS in the Qalamoun district as saying in a statement on Twitter Friday.
“It was agreed to adopt the Qatari mediator as the only channel of the negotiation process. The Qatari mediator was handed a copy of the Islamic State’s demands,” it added.
The Daily Star also reported on Friday that a Qatari delegation had met with commanders from both groups as part of the efforts to secure the release of the security personnel.
The newspaper quoted local mediator Sheikh Mustafa Hujeiri as saying the delegation had met with a commander from the Islamist Syria and Lebanon-based al-Nusra Front militant group on Friday after the party drove to the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal.
Nineteen Lebanese soldiers and some 20 policemen were kidnapped by Syria-based militants including ISIS and al-Nusra Front in early August when the groups stormed Arsal.
Almost two dozen remain hostages and the Lebanese government has refused to negotiate with them.
And in a bid to pressure Beirut into talks, ISIS beheaded a soldier earlier this week.
Qatar has intervened previously in hostage situations involving Lebanese citizens captured by Syria-based Islamist militants.
In March 2014, a group of Lebanese nuns seized by militants in the historic Syria town of Maaloula were released with the help of Qatari mediation. Doha’s efforts were also pivotal in the October 2013 release of nine Lebanese pilgrims who were held for more than a year in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
Analysts and journalists said Qatar’s most recent intervention to help free the Lebanese soldiers came in line with its “ambitious” objective to become a key regional player and was using its wealth and connections with militant groups to do so.
“First, Qatar has ties with the Islamist, jihadist factions that are active in Syria and it has relations with the Lebanese army, Lebanese sides and its ties with Hezbollah are not bad and thus it can play this role [of mediation],” Hazem al-Amin, a Beirut-based journalist for al-Hayat newspaper told Al Arabiya News Saturday.
“It has ties with the Islamist factions, it definitely has ties with the al-Nusra Front, and this allows a channel of communication,” Amin said.
Amin said although he did not believe Qatar had direct ties with ISIS, its relations with Islamist militant groups such as the al-Nusra Front and the Syrian Islamic Front would facilitate “establishing a channel of communication with ISIS.”
Qatar’s connections with militant groups that Arab states refuse to deal with is just one factor enabling it to carry out the role of mediator of such cases, said Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at Lebanon’s American University of Beirut.
The country’s ties to militant groups have developed as a result of Doha’s undefined foreign policy, Khashan said, adding that Arab country’s wealth meant it could pay any ransom demands.
“Qatar does not have a clear stand against ISIS and other radical groups and they have supported the al-Nusra Front,” said Khashan.
The small Gulf state is also willing to pay ransom money to secure the freedom of hostages, enabling them to build bridges with radical groups, Khashan added.