Kidnappers of Lebanese soldiers assign Wissam al-Masri as new mediator

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Sheikh Wissam al-Masri, the new negotiator between the Lebanese government and al-Nusra Front and ISIS. Al-Akhbar

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Monday, December 15, 2014

Al-Nusra Front has assigned Sheikh Wissam al-Masri, with a written authorization, to be in charge of the negotiations with the Lebanese government aimed at releasing the army prisoners. The authorization is not a commission in the literal sense, but is rather a preliminary approval by al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) of a new mediator, following initial reports that the kidnappers completely reject the mediation of the Association of Muslim Scholars. This is with regards to the statement. As for Sheikh Wissam al-Masri, he has informed Al-Akhbar that he received a pledge from the al-Nusra Front that the army prisoners will not be harmed.

Al-Masri said that he got approval from al-Nusra Front and ISIS to act as mediator in the negotiations. He revealed that he handed the written authorization to the Lebanese government through the security services, from whom he should obtain written permission before heading to the outskirts of Ersal to meet with the kidnappers. Al-Akhbar learned that the mediator communicated with officers in the Army Intelligence and Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces in this regard, but he is waiting to meet with the Director General of General Security, Major-General Abbas Ibrahim.

Sheikh al-Masri is a moderate Islamist advocate, who makes a living from a pastry shop he owns in the area of Abi Samra in the northern city of Tripoli. It is known that he maintains an equal distance from all political parties, which is probably what encouraged the al-Nusra Front to accept him as mediator. Al-Masri was close to Hajj Hossam Sabbagh, who was arrested by the Military Intelligence services in Tripoli. He has served as the imam of several mosques in Tripoli, including the Qubbah Mosque and the Sunna and Ihsan Mosque. He was also the general supervisor of the Islamic Kuwaiti Heritage grounds in Tripoli. He was one of the clerics who joined the moderate Salafi congregation with Sheikh Safwan al-Zoubi. Today, he is an imam and preacher at the Abu Anwar Mosque in the gold market in Tripoli.

Al-Nusra Front handed Sheikh al-Masri a written document carrying the group’s slogan, in which it pledges to “stop the execution of all army soldiers to prevent bloodshed and in honor of the brother Wissam al-Masri.” The statement also included conditions the Lebanese government should adhere to, and a call to “stop the shooting in Ersal and its outskirts, end the detention of all detained sisters, and release the sisters that were arrested recently, Saja al-Dulaymi and Ola al-Uqayli, in order to facilitate the resumption of negotiations.”

The statement concluded by warning that “any shooting or arrest of [our] sisters, or other attacks on Sunnis as in the events in Tripoli shall be considered as a violation of the pledge and would call for a solution on our part.”

Al-Akhbar learned that the mediator was granted a comprehensive authorization by al-Nusra Front related to amending the list of prisoners to be exchanged, and that one of the conditions will be to accelerate the trial of the detainees.”

Follow Radwan Mortada on Twitter: @radwanmortada

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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