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A relative of one of the Lebanese security personnel who were captured in Arsal by the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, celebrates ahead of completion of a deal expected to secure their release, inside a tent that was erected last year during an open-ended sit-in near the government palace in downtown Beirut, December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
A relative of one of the Lebanese security personnel who were captured in Arsal by the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, celebrates ahead of completion of a deal expected to secure their release, inside a tent that was erected last year during an open-ended sit-in near the government palace in downtown Beirut, December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

Officials in Lebanon welcomed Tuesday the news about the freeing of the Lebanese servicemen that were kidnapped by the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front and thanked Qatar for mediating their release , while hoping that efforts will be made to ensure the release of the hostages held by the Islamic State extremist group.

Former Lebanese PM and Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri declared via Twitter: “We thank all those who contributed to the release, especially Qatar.”

“We congratulate the servicemen on their return to freedom and to their homeland. This is a joyous occasion for all the Lebanese and a victory for the perseverance of the army and security forces against all pressure,” he added.

Health Minister Wael Abou Faour who played a key role in forcing the government to negotiate with the kidnappers paid a visit to the sit-in held by the servicemen’s families in downtown Beirut, pledging that the “state will not waver in exerting efforts to release the remaining hostages.”

The General Security whose chief led the negotiations said in a statement: “We will spare no effort to bring back the servicemen kidnapped by the IS.”

Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, said: “The seriousness of the General Security did not go in vain and its efforts resulted in the release of the abducted soldiers.”

Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh meanwhile congratulated the Lebanese people on the release of the servicemen and hoped the rest will be freed as well.

Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi told al-Jazeera television: “Today we close the chapter of the servicemen held by al-Nusra Front and hope to focus attention on ones held by the IS.”

The AMAL movement which is headed by speaker nah Berri later said: “The joy on this day remains lacking given that some hostages are still being held by the IS.”

PSP leader MP Walid Jumblatt was quoted as saying: “We hope that efforts continue in the next stage to release the rest of the abducted soldiers.”

Sixteen servicemen held by the al-Nusra Front were released earlier on Tuesday through a Qatari-mediated deal that included the prisoner swap with the extremist group.

The freed Lebanese soldiers and policemen all shaved their beards and put on their Lebanese uniforms and headed to the Grand Serail to meet with PM Tammam Salam and all the officials involved in negotiating their release . General security chief Abbas Ibrahim , Health Minister Wael Abou Faour and army chief general Jeane Kahwaji are already at the Serail waiting to celebrate their release

Qatar press release

The Foreign ministry of Qatar issued a statement following the freeing of the hostages which said that Qatari mediation succeeded in the release of the 16 Lebanese abductees in exchange for 25 prisoners, including 17 women.

The statement said that the Qatari mediation came in response to a request from the Lebanese government

Members of the Lebanese security forces who were kidnapped by jihadist groups from Arsal near the Syrian border last year sit in a Red Cross vehicle moments after their release on December 1, 2015 (AFP Photo/-)
Members of the Lebanese security forces who were kidnapped by jihadist groups from Arsal near the Syrian border last year sit in a Red Cross vehicle moments after their release on December 1, 2015 (AFP Photo/-)
Relatives of Lebanese soldiers and policemen freed by jihadist groups after being held for over a year celebrate in Beirut on December 1, 2015 ©Anwar Amro (AFP)
Relatives of Lebanese soldiers and policemen freed by jihadist groups after being held for over a year celebrate in Beirut on December 1, 2015 ©Anwar Amro (AFP)
Freed lebanese troops at Grand Serail with Lebanese  officials  during the celebration of their release
Freed lebanese troops at Grand Serail with Lebanese officials during the celebration of their release. Photo courtesy Dalati Nohra


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