The Arab world’s Sunday papers lead with news of a complex deal concluded Saturday with the release of nine Lebanese citizens kidnapped more than a year ago and two Turkish pilots, as well as the reported release of more than 100 female Syrians detained by the regime.
“Yesterday Lebanon turned the last page in the story of the nine Lebanese kidnapped in Halab, 17 months after their arrest by the ‘Northern Storm Brigade,’” says the Saudi-owned Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, featuring a picture of the abductees’ relatives celebrating.
“The exchange deal — a triplet” exclaims the London-based daily Al-Hayat, celebrating the return of the nine Lebanese Shiite pilgrims who were held hostage in Azaz; the alleged release of about 120 Syrian female prisoners who belong to the opposition by the Syrian regime, and the release of the two Turkish pilots who were kidnapped last August in response to the kidnapping of the Lebanese pilgrims.
Newspapers highlight the role of the director-general of the Lebanese General Security, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, in the coordination of the complex deal. The Lebanese Al-Safir describes the banners and celebrations on Ibrahim’s return to Beirut on the “Qatari airplane” with the released hostages.
“Information revealed that there was positive progress in the past two days,” reports Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, “especially following the involvement of Qatar’s Emir Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani and his promise to pursue the issue personally.”
But other players are also claiming credit for the success of the deal, a Sharq Al-Awsat reports, with the Palestinian ministry of foreign affairs saying its involvement was crucial in the negotiations between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian regime.
Al-Jazeera’s coverage exposes the sensitive political dimensions of the deal. “Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan participated in the reception for the two Turkish pilots,” the Qatari media outlet’s report says. Yet “the foreign ministry tried to deny a connection between the release of the Lebanese prisoners and the release of the Turkish pilots.”
Claiming exclusive information, the Al-Jazeera report argues that the release of the pilots, the pilgrims and the Syrian female prisoners was indeed a single inclusive deal. It highlights the tensions and fears concerning the deal, as Turkey doubts the trustworthiness of the Syrian regime in its part of the exchange — the release of the female prisoners.
Turkey’s role in regional politics is discussed in an Al-Arabiya op-ed by Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashid. He discusses Turkey’s decision to fight armed groups on Syrian soil “for the first time,” arguing that “undoubtedly, this is a new Turkish policy” as it previously let extremists cross its borders unimpeded with money and ammunition.
“Yet recent developments proved to the Turks that leaders of the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’ and Al-Nusra Front have goals that transcend toppling Assad’s regime,” argues Al-Rashid.
“We think that Turkey can play an important role settling the conflict in Syria and toppling Assad’s regime,” Al-Rashid concludes. Turkey should “support the Free Syrian Army and help it organize itself and prevent external support to this army” rather than fight extremist groups.