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Lebanon secures release of American citizen from Syria

ARIHA, Syria: A member of the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) carries a victim at the site of a reported air strike on the town of Ariha, in the south of Syria’s Idlib province yesterday. – AFP

BEIRUT: Syrian authorities have released a US citizen and he has been handed back to his family, thanks to the mediation of Lebanon, a Lebanese security official said on Friday. The security official did not give the name of the released American, but he was later identified as Sam Goodwin, 30, from St Louis, Missouri.

“Sam is healthy and with his family,” his parents Thomas and Ann Goodwin said in a statement. “We are forever indebted to Lebanese General Abbas Ibrahim and to all others who helped secure the release of our son.” The statement gave no other details, saying, “Right now, we appreciate our privacy as we reconnect with Sam.” A spokeswoman for the family said Goodwin had travelled to Syria “as part of a personal interest to travel and experience every country of the world” and was last heard from on May 25.

The Lebanese security official said the country’s security chief Abbas Ibrahim had conducted the mediation. While not identifying Goodwin as the person released, the official said it was not Austin Tice, a journalist who disappeared in Syria in 2012. The US State Department said it was aware of reports a US citizen had been released but could not comment due to privacy considerations. Several US citizens have been held in Syria since the war began there in 2011, including people held by jihadist groups such as Islamic State.

The United States has declined to say who it believes is holding Tice, but has said it believes he is alive and has sought the help of the Syrian government’s close ally Russia to free him. Last year the family of another American, Majd Kamalmaz, told the New York Times he had disappeared at a government checkpoint in Damascus in 2017. Last month Ibrahim flew to Iran to complete the release and repatriation of Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen with permanent residency in the United States who was detained there in 2015.

Suicide bomber kills 6

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber killed six soldiers yesteray in the southern province of Daraa, in a rare deadly attack against the cradle of the uprising that sparked Syria’s war, a monitor said. The bomber, who was riding a motorcycle, blew himself up at a military checkpoint killing the six soldiers and wounding several other people, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syria’s state news agency SANA also reported a suicide bombing but said it happened during an “army raid” that targeted “terrorists”, a term used by authorities to describe rebels and jihadists. SANA said several soldiers were wounded when “a terrorist detonated an explosive belt during an army raid”. It was not immediately clear who was behind the blast, but pro-regime forces in Daraa province face explosions and gunfire on a near daily basis, although they are usually not deadly.

Earlier this month, an six soldiers were killed in an explosion that targeted an army convoy near Yadud village, some seven kilometers outside the provincial capital of Daraa city, according to the Observatory. Russia-backed government forces last summer retook the province, following a deadly bombardment campaign and surrender deals that saw part of the population board buses to a northern opposition holdout. Government institutions have since returned, but army forces have not deployed in all of the province.

And local anger has grown after hundreds were detained despite the so-called “reconciliation deals”, and many others forcibly conscripted into President Bashar Al-Assad’s army. In March, dozens of people took part in a protest after a statue of the president’s late father, Hafez al-Assad, was erected in Daraa to replace one destroyed by protesters at the onset of the 2011 uprising. Syria’s eight-year conflict, which evolved from a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests into a full blown civil war involving regional and international players, has killed more than 370,000 people.- Agencies

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