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Lebanon struggles over captive troops crisis

THE LEVANT – Lebanon’s government is forming a crisis committee to handle the case of some two dozen members of the security forces held captive by Syrian militants amid escalating criticism over the authorities’ response to the hostage affair, an official said Thursday.

Information Minister Ramzi Jreij said Prime Minister Tammam Salam will head the committee, which will also include the defense, finance, interior, foreign and justice ministers.

Militants, including from the Islamic State extremist group, seized around 30 soldiers and policemen after overrunning the Lebanese border town of Arsal in early August. The militants withdrew five days later after heavy clashes with the military, but took the captives with them.

Some of the hostages have since been released, although Human Rights Watch says an estimated 14 policemen and 12 soldiers are still being held.

Families of the missing have demonstrated for weeks across Lebanon to demand the captives’ release, blocking roads and setting up protest tents.

On Thursday, the families moved their demonstration to central Beirut, rallying outside the government building to demand action from the authorities. Some of the dozens of protesters held banners that read “The blood of our sons is in your hands,” and “If your children were among those kidnapped … what would you have done.”

The fighting in Arsal and the resulting hostage crisis are among the most serious spillover in Lebanon from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

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