Friday 28 October 2016

Jihadists Agree to Quit Lebanon's Arsal, Free Hostages: Mediator


Jihadists who occupied eastern Lebanon's Arsal near the Syrian border have agreed to leave in 24 hours and to release military and police hostages, Sunni clerics who mediated said today.

A ceasefire has been "extended to 7 pm tomorrow (1600 GMT) following an agreement between Lebanon's prime minister, the army command and the other concerned parties," chief negotiator Sheikh Hossam al-Ghali said.

"Fighters in Arsal have started to head across the Lebanese border" into Syria, Ghali said.

But the fate of the deal was unclear as security sources reported intermittent clashes and army shelling just hours after it was announced.

The clerics went to Arsal to negotiate an end to clashes between the army and jihadists that began in the area on Saturday, killing at least 17 soldiers.

An initial truce was expected to run until today evening, allowing talks to continue and the evacuation of the wounded and trapped civilians.

Lebanon's army says at least 22 of its soldiers have gone missing in the fighting, and are assumed to be held hostage by the militants, along with an estimated 20 policemen.

Another negotiator and fellow cleric, Samih Ezzedine, said: "The remaining armed men have undertaken to leave Arsal completely within 24 hours.

"They asked not to be shot at as they withdraw, and if that happens the whole agreement will be in jeopardy," he said.

"All the prisoners are alive and despite difficult negotiations we have clear and positive promises they will be released. I hope that will happen on Thursday," Ezzedine said.

However, the blocking of an aid convoy for Arsal by residents of the neighbouring Shiite village of Labweh set off sectarian tensions.

In the northern city of Tripoli, a homemade device exploded, wounding an unspecified number of people, a local security source said.

Protesters, meanwhile, set ablaze tyres on roads in Sunni districts of the city and on a road in the eastern Bekaa, AFP correspondents said.

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