A Lebanese general renews his mediation for the disappearance of an American journalist

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BEIRUT – A Lebanese security chief met with US officials in Washington as part of a mediation between Washington and Damascus for the release of an American journalist missing in Syria, the head of a mission announced on Wednesday. assistance to hostages.

Nizar Zakka, president of U.S.-based Hostage Aid Worldwide, told The Associated Press by phone that Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim was discussing the fate of six Americans detained in the Middle East, but the “main focus” of his mission is journalist Austin Tice who disappeared near the Syrian capital of Damascus ten years ago.

Zakka, who met Ibrahim in Washington on Tuesday, said Biden administration officials wouldn’t have invited the Lebanese official to Washington if they hadn’t reached something “very serious” about the Tice case. . He says there are “serious sons” in the case, without giving further details. Tice’s fate remains unknown.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden met with Tice’s parents and reiterated his commitment to continue working by all means available to secure “Austin’s long-awaited return to his family.”

Tice, who is originally from Houston and whose work had been published by the Washington Post, McClatchy newspapers and other outlets, disappeared at a checkpoint in a disputed area west of Damascus in August. 2012.

Zakka said the six Americans included Tice and Majd Kamalmaz, a psychologist from Virginia who disappeared in Syria in 2017. The other four are being held in Iran, according to Zakka, who himself was detained in Iran for years before ‘Ibrahim will intervene for his release in 2019.

Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s general security directorate, has negotiated complicated hostage releases in the past. He told Lebanese LBC television that his work regarding the American hostages “slowed down during the transition period between two administrations” in Washington.

“There is now a decision to speed up the process,” Ibrahim added.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday that U.S. officials “have a tendency not to talk about our efforts in public until Americans get home so as not to jeopardize our efforts precisely to take them home”.

He added that US officials “are deeply engaged in this matter.”

In the final months of the Trump administration, two US officials – including the government’s top hostage negotiator, Roger Carstens – paid a secret visit to Damascus to seek information on Tice and other Americans who disappeared in Syria. . It was the highest-level discussion in years between the United States and the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, although Syrian officials did not provide any meaningful information about Tice.

Four years ago, then-US envoy to Syria James Jeffrey said Tice would be alive and being held hostage in Syria. He did not say why officials believe him or who might hold him.

Tice disappeared shortly after his 31st birthday on August 14, 2012. A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by gunmen, saying “Oh, Jesus.” He has not been heard from since.

In late April, the United States secured the release of Trevor Reed, a US Navy veteran held in Russia for nearly three years, as part of a prisoner exchange.

In 2019, Ibrahim’s mediation led to the release of US citizen Samuel Goodwin after being detained for two months in Syria.

Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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