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Conflict Incident Report
Anger among relatives of Arsal hostages as police use water cannons to disperse them
Police used on Friday water cannons against the relatives of the soldiers and policemen taken hostage by jihadists after the protesters and security forces pushed and shoved each other on a main road in Beirut, drawing large-scale condemnation from the families.
Police resorted to force after the families refused to open the Saifi road that they had blocked during the morning rush hour to protest the government's failure to secure the release of their sons.
Their peaceful sit-in, which lasted around one hour, caused bumper-to-bumper traffic.
The demonstrators were enraged after the clash with police and began calling for the resignation of Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq.
The security forces crossed “the red line,” they shouted.
But al-Mashnouq responded in a press conference, saying: “I am ready to step down if my resignation would help secure the release of the hostages."
“From the first moment, the government has been working on the issue in accordance to certain principles," he said.
Police Col. Joseph Musallem justified the use of force by saying there was a decision by the political authorities not to block roads.
“We tried to clear reporters from the area but things developed into pushing and shoving," he told LBCI.
The Internal Security Forces also confirmed on twitter that they were implementing the decision to open the road to thousands of Lebanese who were stranded in their vehicles.
“We dispersed protesters out of our concern to preserve the interest of citizens,” the ISF said.
The families snapped back by saying they were "surprised by the political decision that suppressed the relatives but failed to release the abductees."
“Our protest will continue until the release of our loved ones,” they said in a statement read by one of the family members.
The relatives urged the judiciary to investigate and interrogate any ISF member who “ordered the assault” on them.
"Thank you for your acts. You have lost your conscious," they told al-Mashnouq.
During the road closure, the protesters were adamant to make their voices heard.
“It seems they want us to take escalatory measures. So, this is what we'll do,” one of the protestors said about the Lebanese authorities before they were forced to disperse.
“If you execute all of them, you won't achieve a thing,” said another, addressing the militants.
“We might stay here,” a relative said as he sat in the middle of the road.
This was not the first protest held by the relatives. Last week, they burned tires and blocked roads in Beirut and northern Lebanon.
The families have also for weeks been camping out near Prime Minister Tammam Salam's office in Beirut's Riad al-Solh square, demanding the government negotiate faster.
The soldiers and police were taken hostage in August when al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group infiltrated the northeastern town of Arsal through the porous Syrian-Lebanese border and engaged in bloody clashes with the army.
Health Minister Wael Abou Faour earlier telephoned the relatives and “urged them to open the road and give the Lebanese government some time to allow it to work.”
Abou Faour told LBCI TV that he is not in Beirut. But he will meet with them when he returns.
“Secrecy is one of the reasons for the success of the negotiations,” he stressed.
Friday's protest came a day after al-Nusra Front threatened to execute one of the captive servicemen and several days after Hizbullah secured the release of a party member who had been taken hostage by rebels in Syria's Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border.
Al-Nusra said Thursday that a captive will be expected if the Lebanese government did not start what it called “serious negotiations.”
It called on the Lebanese authorities to release Jumana Hmayyed who was arrested near Arsal in February while driving a booby-trapped car that entered Lebanon from Syria's Yabrud region.
The militant group's statement further angered the relatives of the servicemen who on Wednesday expressed regret at Hizbullah's ability to engage in a prisoner swap with Syrian gunmen and the failure of the Lebanese government to do so.
Hizbullah said Tuesday that one of its members, Imad Ayyad, was freed in exchange for two gunmen who were in the party's custody.
The party has been fighting alongside troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad against rebels seeking to topple him.