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Washington, Damascus Keep Contact to Secure Release of Abducted Journalist

Washington, Damascus Keep Contact to Secure Release of Abducted Journalist

Saturday, 13 August, 2022 - 06:15
Austin Tice as he appeared in undated video posted to YouTube in 2012 seen blindfolded in the presence of gunmen. (AP)

President Joe Biden’s administration has had direct engagements with the Syrian government in an effort to secure the release of detained American Austin Tice, with no progress made, US media revealed on Friday.

In a statement earlier this week marking the 10-year anniversary of Tice’s captivity, Biden affirmed that the United States “knows with certainty that he has been held by the Syrian government.”

“We have repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home,” Biden said, calling on Damascus to end this and help bring him home.

“There is no higher priority in my administration than the recovery and return of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad,” Biden added.

Tice, who served in the US Marine Corps, was a freelance photojournalist working for Agence France Presse, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS and other news organizations when he disappeared after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on August 14, 2012.

Thirty-one years old at the time he was captured, Tice appeared blindfolded in the custody of an unidentified group of armed men in a video a month later but there has been little news since.

McClatchy Newspaper, to which Tice was reporting while covering the revolution against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, said Biden asked to meet with Austin's parents, Debra and Mark Tice, in the White House on May 2.

He briefed them on the latest developments in his administration's efforts and contacts with the Assad government to secure their son’s release, the newspaper reported.

It said that the latest direct engagement between the two sides took place in January, but it failed to secure a meeting with the abducted.

Biden also explained for the parents his policy in Syria, which he hopes will provide an incentive for Assad to get involved in this case, the report stated.

He further indicated that he lifted US sanctions against entities in northern Syria, yet couldn’t achieve a breakthrough.

A meeting between the Syrians and a high-level American official also took place during Donald Trump’s presidency.

In August 2020, White House aide Kash Patel and special envoy for hostage affairs Roger Carstens were dispatched to Damascus to negotiate Tice’s release.

However, Syrian officials made the withdrawal of all US troops from the country a precondition for further talks.

The newspaper said that US-Syrian contacts are held directly or indirectly, and some are via e-mail, noting that one of the back channels through which the communication takes place is the Director General of the Lebanese General Security Agency, Major General Abbas Ibrahim.

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