BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian Nusra Front has offered to free Lebanese soldiers it has captured in exchange for Islamist prisoners held in Syria and Lebanon, the SITE Intelligence Group reported on Sunday.
The al Qaeda-linked front said in a statement monitored by SITE that it had presented a Qatari negotiator with three proposals for the release of the soldiers, taken when its fighters and militants from the Islamic State, which controls parts of Iraq and Syria, briefly seized the border town of Arsal in August.
According to the statement, which SITE said was posted on Twitter on Saturday, Nusra asked for the release of 10 “brothers” held in Lebanon, or seven prisoners in Lebanon and 30 female prisoners held in Syria, or six prisoners and 50 female prisoners for each captive soldiers.
It was not clear if these proposals also include a number of soldiers held by the hardline Islamic State militants.
Lebanese officials were not immediately available for comment.
Violence from Syria’s three-year civil war has spilled over to Lebanon, with bombings in Beirut, fighting in the northern city of Tripoli, and rocket attacks on Bekaa Valley towns close to the frontier.
In one of the worst incidents, the Nusra and Islamic State fighters staged an incursion into Arsal in August and took around 20 soldiers prisoner when they pulled out.
Islamic State militants beheaded two of the captives and Nusra shot one.
Nusra said in its statement that once an agreement was reached, the handover of the female prisoners would occur either in Qatar or Turkey. Male prisoners would be handed over in Arsal’s mountainous countryside.
The group said it had also handed the Qatari delegate with some of the names of the prisoners it wanted freed.
The names were not revealed but sources told Reuters in August the group was seeking the release of several detained Islamists, including some jailed since a 2007 insurrection by an al Qaeda-inspired group at a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon.
Reporting by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Angus MacSwan