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Relatives of the kidnapped soldiers burn tires near the Grand Serail in Beirut, Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

New Lebanese ‘mediator’ threatens to withdraw from hostage negotiations

Source: The Daily Star – The rumored new mediator in negotiations to secure the release of 25 Lebanese servicemen threatened to withdraw from the effort if the Lebanese government does not announce his official appointment by Tuesday evening.

“If I’m not appointed by the government tonight, at the latest, I will withdraw as a mediator,” Tripoli Sheikh Wissam Masri told The Daily Star Tuesday afternoon, two days after his alleged appointed by the Nusra Front was reported.

While the Nusra Front has not mentioned Masri’s appointment as a mediator on any of its affiliated Twitter accounts, media reports quoted the sheikh as saying he had been commissioned by the group.

Masri’s official appointment seems unlikely, given that he has yet to meet with any governmental official and has received no news of a formal appointment.

“I don’t sense seriousness from the Lebanese government,” he said, adding that “until now no official party has expressed willingness to appoint me.”

Despite the media focus on Masri’s alleged appointment by the Nusra Front, the Tripoli sheikh said he “does not consider himself commissioned by any group” until the Lebanese government formally appoints him as a mediator.

Masri said that he was not appointed by the Nusra Front directly but was contacted by mediators who spoke on behalf of the group earlier this week.

The Nusra Front has repeatedly announced that it has no preferences over potential mediators, saying that it welcomed any party tasked by the Lebanese government.

Masri refused to say who first contacted him, stressing that the important thing was the presence of an indirect channel of communication.

When asked about the reason behind his alleged selection, the Tripoli sheikh said that he believed he had much to offer in the negotiations.

Refusing to disclose the exact details of any potential leverage he may have over the file, Masri said that he “could launch initiatives and broker agreements that could benefit the case.”

Masri, a member of Lebanon’s Salafist Gathering, owns a pastry shop in Tripoli’s Abi Samra neighborhood. Known for his moderate stances, Masri has served as the imam of several mosques in Tripoli, including the Qibbeh, Sunna and Ihsan mosques. Currently, he is imam and preacher at the Abul Anwar Mosque in the Souk al-Dahab neighborhood.

As mediation difficulties continue to riddle negotiations, the families of the captives took matters in to their own hands Tuesday.

Spokesman Hussein Youssef, father of captive soldier Mohammad Youssef, called for a meeting with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Saudi Arabia, he told The Daily Star.

Youssef said that he had communicated this demand through Future Movement Secretary-General Ahmad Hariri, who in turn would deliver the proposal to the head of the movement.

“We consider Hariri to be a corner-tone in Lebanese politics, and I want to meet with him because I know he can achieve whatever he sets his mind to,” Youssef said, noting that Hariri’s prolonged absence from Lebanon had kept the families from reaching out for his help.

While Youssef hasn’t received a response to his request yet, he said he was hopeful that the meeting would take place in two weeks.

“If I didn’t think it would happen then I wouldn’t have called for it,” he said.

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