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Thursday, December 01, 2022

Lebanese general renews mediation over missing US journalist

BEIRUT ( Associated Press) – A Lebanese security chief is meeting with US officials in Washington as part of mediation between Washington and Damascus to seek the release of an American journalist missing in Syria, the head of a mission to aid hostages said on Wednesday. said.

Nizar Zakka, president of US-based Hostage Aid Worldwide, told The Associated Press by telephone that Major General Abbas Ibrahim was discussing the fate of six Americans held in the Middle East, but that the “primary objective” of his mission is journalist Austin Tice who was a A decade ago, he went missing near the Syrian capital Damascus.

Zakka, who met with Ibrahim in Washington on Tuesday, said Biden administration officials would not have invited the Lebanese official to Washington had they not arrived at something “very serious” regarding the Tice case. He says there are “serious threads” in the matter, without elaborating. Tice’s fate remains unknown.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden visited Tice’s parents and reiterated their commitment to continue working through all available methods to secure “Austin’s long-pending return to his family.”

Tice, who is from Houston and whose work was published by The Washington Post, McClatchy newspapers and other outlets, disappeared in August at a checkpoint in a disputed area west of Damascus. 2012.

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Zakka said the six Americans included Tice and Majd Kamalamaz, a psychologist from Virginia who disappeared in Syria in 2017. According to Zakka, four others were held in Iran for years before mediating Ibrahim’s release in 2019.

Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s General Directorate of Security, has mediated complex hostage releases in the past. He told Lebanon’s LBC TV that his work regarding the American hostages in Washington had “slowed down during the transitional period between the two administrations”.

“A decision has now been taken to expedite the process,” Ibrahim said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that US officials “do not talk publicly about our efforts before Americans come home to properly jeopardize our efforts to bring them home.”

He added that US officials are “deeply engaged in this matter.”

In the final months of the Trump administration, two US officials – including the government’s top hostage negotiator, Roger Carstens – made a secret visit to Damascus To obtain information about Tice and other Americans who have disappeared in Syria. It was the highest level of talks in years between the United States and the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, although Syrian officials did not provide any meaningful information on the tie.

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Four years ago, the then US envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, said that Tice was believed to be alive and taken hostage in Syria. He did not say why the officers believed so or who was holding them.

Tice went missing on August 14, 2012, shortly after his 31st birthday. A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by armed men saying, “Oh, Jesus.” Since then there has been no hearing from him.

In late April, the US secured the release of Trevor Reid, an American maritime veteran who had been detained in Russia for nearly three years, as part of a prisoner swap.

In 2019, US citizen Samuel Goodwin was released after two months in Syria due to Ibrahim’s mediation.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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