The crisis over the 27 surviving police and military personnel taken captive by JaN and IS in Arsal in August continues. IS contacted relatives of the seven soldiers it is holding on 16 November, threatening to kill them unless life sentences handed down to five jihadist prisoners two days earlier were revoked. The news intensified protests by the captives’ families and supporters which have been going on for several weeks in central Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square and the demonstrators blocked several roads in the area. In response, Health Minister Wael Abou Faour of the Progressive Socialist Party led mediation efforts with the families and the protests were scaled back.
There has been no formal announcement of any change to the sentences for the five jihadists and IS has not acted on its threat to kill its captives. The propaganda value of the hostages means that their two sets of captors, and JaN in particular, will only kill them as a last resort – if there were a rescue attempt, for example. Qatar has brokered the release of other prisoners held by JaN in Syria and the group has engaged with Qatari mediators again, though there is no sign of substantive progress to date. Its more pragmatic position (relative to IS) means that it might ultimately agree to some sort of negotiated settlement and IS may even be prepared to talk via the Qataris. However, IS’s demands for the release of dozens of jihadist prisoners in both Lebanon and Syria mean that the likelihood of any deal for the release of its captives is extremely limited.