Syrian Women Excluded From Prisoner Exchange

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Turkish Airline pilot Murat Akpinar (R), who was kidnapped in Beirut in August, hugs his son upon arrival at the Istanbul Ataturk airport on October 19, 2013. (Photo: AFP - Ozan Kose)

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The deal that led to the release of the Azaz hostages is not yet complete. The two kidnapped Syrian bishops are still unaccounted for. In light of the conflicting information on the second phase of the exchange deal, stories abound about "the arrival of several Syrian women prisoners to Beirut accompanied by a Syrian delegation."

In addition, there is information about a Qatari delegation, staying in a hotel in the capital, which arrived on the same plane carrying the nine freed Lebanese. Sources maintain they await the completion of the second part of the deal.

However, Syrian sources told Al-Akhbar, "The release of the Syrian women prisoners had nothing to do with the original deal … The main pillars of the deal have been achieved."

"The Lebanese and Turkish state came out as winners, with the fulfilment of their demands,” said the sources. “But the release of the Syrian women prisoners was a request from the North Storm Brigade alone. However, some of its leaders agreed to receive money in return to close the deal."

"The demands of the North Storm Brigade will not be met," especially since this opposition group is weak today and is reeling under the blows of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters. This forced them to negotiate with the Kurds about the release of the Lebanese prisoners.

Syrian sources informed of the issue said, "None of the 112 Syrian women prisoners mentioned will be set free as part of the exchange, except eight or nine who do not have any criminal penalties."

"The policy adopted by the Syrian regime is to reject the exchange of detainees for kidnapped persons, no matter how important they were. Officials are firmly convinced that this will limit kidnapping operations."

As for the release of the women prisoners: "They will not be released except in the context of a general amnesty, which includes other women prisoners."

The North Storm Brigade, in an Internet statement published on October 21, announced that it has not received "any of the Syrian women prisoners yet, who were part of the deal."

The statement continued: "Attacks by ISIS on [Northern Storm Brigade] positions in Azaz forced [the brigade] to hasten the negotiations process, especially since the kidnapping of the Turkish pilots pushed the operation ahead. It should be noted that there was an agreement to release the women prisoners in stages, while the Lebanese would be freed in stages also."

"Everyone in Adana was waiting for the prisoners, but none arrived," the statement continued. It expressed "astonishment about some who believed what the Lebanese press said about a payment being made to the brigade in return for the release of the Lebanese."

On the other hand, the three detainees suspected of kidnapping the Turkish pilots in Beirut – Nadim Zgheib, Hassan Saleh, and Mohammed Saleh – were released on bail from Roumieh Central Prison on Monday, October 21, by a decision from Judge Ziad Moukanna.

Lawyer of the detainees Mohammed Ballout said, "There was not sufficient evidence to keep them in custody."

Follow Radwan Mortada on Twitter.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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